Enter any public space, in an urban setting especially, and you’ll find a majority of people looking at their phones. And with even jobs other than IT requiring people to stare at computer screens for a major part of the day, over seven hours, it is obvious that it will have some impact on our health.
Computer Vision Syndrome is one effect of the long hours we spend staring at screens. And because it does not have painful or drastic symptoms is often why it does not alarm people. Experts also say while this used to be more common in IT professionals, the number of children – as young as eight – who exhibit its symptoms have increased in the past few years.
Symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome
TNM spoke to Dr Kalpana Suresh, an ophthalmologist who worked as the Head of the Department of Ophthalmology at Sri Ramachandra Medical College (SRMC), Chennai for almost two decades before starting her own clinic.
She points out that the symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome or digital eyestrain include dryness in eyes, tiredness in eyes, irritation, blurry vision and redness.
“These symptoms are generic in nature, yes. But if the person is otherwise healthy, not on medication, and feels fine in the morning but experiences soreness and redness in the eyes towards midday or evening, it’s probably because of Computer Vision Syndrome,” Dr Kalpana says.
What happens when you have Computer Vision Syndrome
The causes behind Computer Vision Syndrome stem from excessive staring at screens.
“You would normally blink 15-20 times in a minute. But because of continuous staring at the screen, the blink rate reduces, which causes the tears in the eyes to evaporate, which causes the dryness and irritation,” Dr Kalpana says.
Tears in the eyes don't just maintain moisture, but protect from infections and irritants. Over time decreased production of tears can make the eyes more vulnerable to infections and frequent allergies. It may even affect one's ability to wear contact lenses.
“Our eyes also have to strain more when we have to look at something close to our eyes. They have to focus and refocus on screens, which is strenuous,” she adds.
Dr Kalpana argues that the blue rays from the light emitted from laptops and other digital screens are also harmful for the eyes. Not just screens, blue light can enter the eyes through sunlight, which is its largest source, fluorescent light bulbs, and LED light. And while there are questions about whether they actually cause harm, experts seem to agree that blue light affects the body’s natural sleep cycle.
“The blue light essentially stops the secretion of melatonin, which controls sleep and wakefulness,” Dr Kalpana says. This essentially means that if you are staring at a screen, even watching TV before sleeping, though you may be tired, you may experience difficulty in falling asleep because your body does not realise it is night time. “And even the quality of sleep you get will be low. This adds to the strain on your eyes,” Dr Kalpana says, indicating that it becomes a vicious cycle.
Precautions and treatment
Since it may not be possible to reduce screen time drastically, especially if your work involves working on a computer, Dr Kalpana suggests some precautions and practices to avoid, and reduce effects of Computer Vision Syndrome.
1. Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a break from looking at the screen. For 20 seconds, stare at something 20 feet away. This helps relax the eyes.
2. The monitor or screen should either be at eye level or below. If it is above eye level, it increases the portion of the eye exposed and causes more dryness.
3. There are anti-glare spectacles which can be used by people who are not prescribed glasses too. They help reflect the glare and blue light from the screen. But if your blink rate is low, you will still experience dryness.
4. Have at least two litres of water and plenty of fruits. Bright coloured fruits have carotenoids which are antioxidants and Vitamin A which are good for eyes.
5. Avoid fans or ACs running at high speeds close to your face as it may elevate dryness in eyes.
6. At least an hour before sleeping, don’t stare at a screen.
For children, weaning them away from gadgets and screens can help rectify Computer Vision Syndrome. In adults, you may need medication and depending on the dryness, artificial tear substitutes may be prescribed.