We live in a digital world. The average American adult spends more than 11 hours per day on electronic gadgets, according to a 2015 Nielsen report. As eye doctors well know, all that time spent staring at computers, tablets, and smartphones takes a toll on our eyes. Since March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month, here are some practical tips to share with your staff and your patients to help everyone maintain healthy eyes at work and at play.

Exercise your eyes

Your eyes, just like other muscles in your body, get stiff and tired when held in the same position for too long, which is all too easy to do whether you’re entering EHR data or in the midst of a Netflix marathon. There’s even a clinical term for it: Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), also called digital eye strain. CVS describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged use of electronic devices, per the American Optometric Association (AOA). CVS is not only painful, causing headaches and irritated eyes, but it can also lower productivity and disrupt workflow.

Simple eye exercises can help with eye strain and focus fatigue, like the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at an object roughly 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. You can also give your eyes a break by closing them and rolling your eyes up, down, and around in one direction and then the other. Or try a “facepalm.” Rub your hands together, then gently cup your palms over your closed eyelids for a few minutes.

Lastly, don’t forget to blink! We tend to blink less often while using a computer, which can cause eye dryness and irritation. For more eye-friendly exercises, watch our Rendia video, Healthy Daily Habits for Computer Users.

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Consider your setup

Eye strain can also be caused by such factors as poor lighting, screen glare and uncorrected vision problems. Having a proper office or workstation setup can help. Be sure to ask your patients about theirs.

When using a computer, ambient lighting should be about half as bright as that typically found in most offices, advises AllAboutVision.com. If a workspace is too bright, either from windows or harsh interior lighting, close drapes or blinds and use lower-intensity light bulbs or fluorescent tubes. If possible, turn off overhead fluorescent lights and use incandescent or halogen lamps instead.

This will also help minimize glare, which contributes to eye strain. Consider installing an anti-glare screen on your computer monitor. If you wear glasses, purchase lenses with anti-reflective (AR) coating.

Adjusting your computer display settings may also be beneficial. Go into the Control Panel in Windows or System Preferences on a Mac to adjust the brightness, text size and contrast, and color temperature. “Reducing the color temperature of your display lowers the amount of blue light emitted by a color display for better long-term viewing comfort,” states AllAboutVision.com.

Beware of blue light?

The news is full of reports about the dangers of blue light emitted by electronic devices on our eyes and our sleep patterns. Blue light is part of the visible light spectrum and is found in sunlight, incandescent and LED light bulbs, as well as computers, TV screens and other devices.

In contrast to UV light, which is part of the non-visible light spectrum, blue light “reaches deeper into the eye and its cumulative effect can cause damage to the retina. Furthermore, in certain wavelengths, blue light is implicated in the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD),” explains Ronald Melton, O.D., in the Review of Optometry.

The jury is still out on how harmful exposure to short wavelength or blue-violet light really is, as evidenced by a recent roundtable discussion on the topic in the journal Optician. Some experts say the risk of blue light exposure from electronics on eye health is negligible. Others say there is not enough data yet to make the call, so better to be safe than sorry in the meantime. Most eye doctors agree that patients should be made aware of the potential risks of exposure to blue light.

A variety of products have been developed to address blue light exposure. Lens company Essilor and the Paris Vision Institute developed Light Scan, a patented lens that selectively filters out harmful blue-violet and UV light while allowing the beneficial visible light to pass through, with no color distortion.

Eyewear company Gunnar sells a patented “computer lens technology solution” developed to alleviate common eye issues associated with use of electronic devices, including eye strain, fatigue, and the effects of artificial blue light. Other companies sell amber or orange-tinted glasses, which some studies have shown prevent the melatonin suppression caused by exposure to blue light.

In addition, there are dozens of products out there that claim to filter harmful blue light from computer and tablet screens. These range from free apps like f.lux to tinted filters that fit over your device’s screen, such as those sold by LowBlueLights.com.  

Patients who need the most protection are “those who have high exposure to white LED or fluorescent light bulbs in offices and homes, frequent users of LED computer monitors, tablets, or smart phones, and those at risk for AMD,” states Melton.

Reinforce the importance of eye exams

Eye doctors have a responsibility to get up to speed on these topics so they can educate their patients, adds Melton. Make sure your patients know that having regular comprehensive eye exams is the most important thing they can do to prevent or treat screen-related vision problems. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health recommends that all computer users have an eye exam yearly. “Uncorrected or undercorrected vision problems can be major contributing factors to computer-related eyestrain,” says the AOA.

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