We are fortunate that, in spite of the pandemic, we can work remotely, and our children can learn remotely. However, this benefit does not come without consequences. For one thing, we are not “designed” to spend extended periods of time engaged in near vision activities (like staring at a computer screen). On top of that, many of us and many of our children spend leisure time on a smart phone or tablet. Additionally, when we spend time in these activities, we don’t blink as much (often half as often as usual), and it is the blinking process that allows us to coat our eyes with new tears.
There is another issue with device use: Blue light. Blue light is the wavelength of light that is on one end of the rainbow, and it is right next to ultraviolet light (UV). We know that UV can be damaging to our skin and to our eyes, and now have learned that blue light can penetrate deeply into the eyes and cumulatively over time, can contribute to the development of macular degeneration. It can also cause eyestrain, headaches and, since it can deplete melatonin, can impact our sleep cycle. We are now exposed to higher levels of blue light indoors, due to some of the new overhead lighting as well as from tablets, phones and computer monitors.
With the amount of screen time skyrocketing, there are a number of steps we can take to combat these issues. For one thing, we can periodically use artificial tears during the day. We should also follow the mantra of “20-20-20,” where every 20 minutes on a device, we take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away. This is akin to taking breaks between sets of weightlifting, where we can get some “recovery” before proceeding further. We should also periodically do blink exercises where we squeeze our eyelids tightly shut four to five times in a row. This promotes clearing out of the glands in our lids that produce the part of our tears that prevents them from evaporating too quickly. Lastly, protection from prolonged blue light exposure can be very helpful, especially for children. There are blue light glasses that can be purchased on line, but you first need to find out how much blue light blockage they have, and, while using these glasses can be beneficial, also keep in mind that these often have lower quality lenses that can actually distort vision and create eyestrain. Optically ground computer glasses can have custom eyestrain reducing prescriptions, and coatings that will block glare, almost 100 percent of UV, and up to 90 percent of blue light.
While “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue?” is a classic song, we don’t want blue light and prolonged device use to make our precious vision and eye health to be compromised. Now…give me 20-20-20!
Dr. Stephen Cohen has been in private practice in Scottsdale since 1985. His office motto is, “Where modern technology meets old-fashioned care,” and he provides eye care from infants to seniors. He can be reached at 480.513.3937 or by email at email@example.com. His website is doctormyeyes.net.