Help patients see the benefits of unplugging

March 9, 2018
Doctors of optometry can advise Americans on how to preserve their vision from overexposure to digital devices.
Day of unplugging

As optometry celebrates Save Your Vision Month, the National Day of Unplugging 2020 on March 6-7 may present an opportunity for doctors of optometry to talk to their patients about their digital devices, their eye health and vision care.

The California-based organizers of the Day of Unplugging call the sundown-to-sundown event a 24-hour respite from burying our noses in digital devices to reconnect "to ourselves, our loved ones and our communities."

"Too much time on digital devices can lead to dry eyes, strained eyes, frequent headaches, loss of concentration and difficulty sleeping," says Geoffrey Goodfellow, O.D., associate professor of optometry at the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago and attending optometrist in the pediatrics/binocular vision service at the Illinois Eye Institute.

"There also is the added disadvantage of too many hours spent in front of technology equating to too many hours being sedentary or not personally interacting with other people, both of which can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle," Dr. Goodfellow says. "Because the default focus of our eyes is for distance viewing, our eyes really weren't designed to be staring at near objects all day. Unplugging could be a good reminder to give your eyes a break."

Fear not. Doctors of optometry can counsel patients on year-round options to preserve their vision against overexposure to digital devices.

Practice unplugging

Like most Americans, Dr. Goodfellow spends a good portion of his day on his digital devices.

His day typically starts at 6 a.m. on his cellphone, where he checks his email and reads the news. That segues into his workday, as he teaches optometry students and accesses the electronic health records of his patients at the clinic. In the evenings, he's either on his laptop or tablet keeping up with home and work projects. Sound familiar?

Some estimates put the amount of time Americans spend on their digital devices each day as high as 10 to 12 hours.

"Seeing that the health observance falls on part of a normal workday, I doubt I'll be able to escape technology altogether that day," Dr. Goodfellow says, referring to the Day of Unplugging. "Most people now live in a work and home environment that is highly dependent on technology."

But that won't stop doctors of optometry from doing their part on behalf of patients, many of whom are digitally devoted adolescents. Dr. Goodfellow encourages his young patients to practice good visual hygiene:

  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule: When using any electronic device, make a conscious effort every day to take a 20-second break and look away from the screen every 20 minutes and view something 20 feet away.
  • Position yourself: Maintain a comfortable working distance from your device by using the zoom feature to see small print and details, rather than bringing the device closer to your eyes.
  • Beat the glare: The AOA recommends reducing the glare by adjusting device settings or using a glare filter to decrease the amount of blue light reflected from the screen
  • Consider buying protective eyewear: Experiment with blue-light-filter glasses to limit the blue light beaming from your screen.
  • Power down before you turn in: Turn your digital devices off at least one hour before bed.

And there is no substitute for comprehensive eye exams.

"As admirable as unplugging is, life demands that we all participate in technology to get our work done," Dr. Goodfellow says. "A comprehensive eye exam is the best way to ensure that the eyes are healthy and the visual system is operating efficiently.

"Healthy eyes and efficient vision allow users to interact with technology in a comfortable and clear way for longer periods of time, which translates into more productivity," he adds. "In the absence of comprehensive exams, users may have unknown ocular or vision problems that really hold them back from using their technology to its fullest."

Save Your Vision Month is optometry's opportunity to remind Americans of the importance of eye health and the essentialness of comprehensive eye examinations, the medically recognized standard performed by doctors of optometry. It traces its founding to 1929 by members of the AOA.

Find a doctor of optometry near you.

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