Smartphones are practically tethered to our arms. We sit in front of screens at home and work.
Our kids watch movies and play games on tablets while on a long flight and elsewhere. Technology has changed our habits—and could be changing our vision.
We don’t yet know the long-term effects of digital eye strain on patients. Baby boomers, who started using computers in middle-age, when their eyes were developed and even becoming presbyopic, will have different vision issues than today’s youth who started Skyping with their grandparents and watching Doc McStuffins on a tablet at age 2. Because of this, digital eye strain is a must-discuss topic for optometrists and their patients, regardless of age.
IMPORTANT FIRST STEP
Understanding your patients’ professions is the first step. Do they work at a computer most of the day or sporadically? Are patients reliant on their smartphones or tablets? Do they spend time gaming on these devices?
Pediatric patients are of special importance, given the exposure to screens they’ll have over their lives.
Computers are increasingly incorporated into a variety of subjects at school, and students often complete their homework on the computer. This brings their total screen time to several hours a day, and that’s not counting time spent playing games, texting and doing other activities on smartphones and tablets.
In my practice, many parents have expressed concerned about their children’s exposure to blue light. Specifically, they want to know more about its effects on vision.
Blue light is light on the visible spectrum that has a short wavelength and a high amount of energy. Blue light is not harmful to the eye in small amounts, but long periods of time using digital devices increases the risk of developing symptoms from blue light exposure. These symptoms—which include eye strain, eye fatigue and blurred vision when working on devices—occur because blue light scatters within the eye, making it harder to focus clearly.
The good news is that many lenses have been developed that help block blue light that is emitted by devices. This allows for improved visual efficiency and fewer symptoms.
Helping our patients understand that their daily habits affect their vision is a top priority. We often only see patients once a year at their annual comprehensive eye exam, and we have a limited amount of time to show how their lifestyle affects vision health.
Think About Your Eyes, the vision industry’s awareness campaign, reminds patients year-round that their vision is important. It does so via TV ads, radio commercials, online video and banner ads, and social media. Encouraging patients to schedule an annual eye exam is the most important message we can convey, and it is the first step in monitoring any issues increased screen time may present.