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Digital eye strain

Overview

People who spend extended periods of time staring at device screens are also at risk of developing a condition called digital eye strain (DES), also known as computer vision syndrome (CVS). DES comprises a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and mobile phone use. DES is a very common eye disorder, affecting up to 20% of children and as many as 90% of university students and working adults.

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Digital eye strain

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Risk factors

Unsurprisingly, longer screen time is a major risk factor for DES. It has been reported that people who used mobile phones and computers for more than 8 hours a day were 2 times more likely to experience DES-related symptoms than those who used screens for fewer than 8 hours a day. For this reason, occupations that require employees to spend extended periods time in front of digital screens, such as office workers, call centre operators, bank employees, and government officials, tend to experience higher rates of DES. Contact lens wearers and women also tend to be more susceptible to DES.

Signs and symptoms

Dry eye is a common symptom of DES that can result in eye irritation, burning, dryness, redness and sensitivity to bright light. Exposure to digital screens has also been reported by multiple studies to negatively affect accommodation (the ability of the eyes to change its focus) due to eye fatigue from staring at screens for long durations. This loss of accommodation often results in blurred near and distance vision, which may cause headaches if left untreated.

Diagnosis

DES is most commonly diagnosed based on responses to a questionnaire about eye symptoms. However, eye health professionals such as optometrists may need to perform a clinical examination to determine whether the cause of discomfort or pain is DES or another condition.

Treatment

Once DES has been diagnosed, an eye health professional may choose different methods to treat the condition depending on factors such as symptom type or severity and potential environmental triggers. Some of the common strategies to treat DES include:

  • Correcting refractive errors with spectacles or contact lenses to reduce eye strain-related symptoms of DES.
  • Using lenses treated with filters that block out certain kinds of light such as harsh blue light to alleviate eye fatigue-related symptoms of DES.
  • Using lubricating eye drops to improve dry eye-related symptoms of DES (fatigue, irritation, and redness).

Management

The management strategies of DES focus on prevention rather than cure by adopting healthy device use behaviours such as:

  • Taking regular breaks in between periods of screen exposure.
  • Limiting smart device screen time and engaging in more outdoor activity.
  • Increasing text size to reduce squinting of the eyes while using devices
  • Reducing overhead lighting and using anti-glare screens to reduce screen glare.
  • Keeping an adequate face-to-screen distance when using devices.
  • Placing device screens below eye level.

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