Your mom warned you sitting too close to the TV wasn’t a good idea. It turns out she wasn’t entirely off the mark, says Roy Hessel, president and CEO of Clearly and Coastal.
“Digital eye strain” is now a real condition, defined as the physical eye discomfort felt after two or more hours in front of a digital screen.
As screen time increases – at home and in the office – so do symptoms like blurred vision, burning eyes, headaches and disrupted sleep. In total, nearly two thirds of American adults now experience symptoms of digital eye strain due to prolonged use of electronic devices like computers, tablets and cell phones.
It’s not hard to see why. For many of us, the glow of a phone’s screen is the first thing we see when we wake and the last thing we see before sleep. In between, we fill the hours bathed in LED light, staring first at documents and emails, then Facebook updates and Netflix. One of the biggest eye-burn culprits, not surprisingly, is the office, where being planted in front of a screen is often a requirement of the job. Our bodies and eyes just weren’t designed for modern digital lifestyles and workplaces.
I’ve spent my career in the optical industry, following these trends. Along the way, I’ve seen mountains of studies and reports and also tracked the efforts of doctors and scientists trying to fight what may be a hidden epidemic. The harm we’re doing to our vision, it turns out, could be very real and may even be getting worse. But it is preventable.
Online, all the time
Technology has completely transformed the demands on our eyes. TV is no longer the main culprit (though household viewing hours have more than doubled since the 1950s). Screen time is expanding far more quickly outside the living room. Ratings agency Nielsen reports Americans aged 18 and older now spend 11 hours per day in total using electronic media like TV, smartphones, and computers.
Modern workplaces are piling onto this trend. We’ve grown accustomed to mobile devices that push emails to us everywhere. Now apps like Slack and Facebook at Work are opening up entirely new avenues to communicate digitally. Physical facetime has given way to Apple Facetime and virtual group chats. The trend only stands to get worse: Citrix reports that by 2020, employees will access their work using an average of six different computing devices per day.
Not so easy on the eyes
All that time in front of computers, phones and tablets is affecting people’s health. The majority of Americans now report symptoms of digital eye strain, including neck, shoulder and back pain (36%), eye strain (35%), headaches (25%), blurred vision (25%) and dry eyes (24%). Worryingly, the percentage of sufferers is greater among young people. Some 73% of adults under 30 now experience these symptoms, suggesting a generational trend.
One growing source of potential concern is the kind of light most digital devices emit. We all know about the invisible dangers of ultraviolet or UV light, but fewer people are aware of the potential risks of high energy light that we can see: blue light. Light on the blue end of the visual light spectrum contains more energy than warm colours like oranges and reds, and is known as high energy visual light (HEV).