Too much screen time, not enough blinking

Is it my imagination, or do people always seem to staring at a screen of some kind?

Photo by: wcizmowski

I don’t think I’m making it up.

Many of us are in front of computers at work all day. When we’re not staring at those monitors, chances are we’re checking messages on the smaller screens of our mobile devices or maybe doing something on an iPad. And at the end of the day, how do we relax? It might be sitting down to read a book on our Kindle or watch a show or movie on a TV screen – often of the new, large, flat and HD variety.

Is all that screen time hurting our eyes?

Too much screen time can cause eyestrain, dryness or other relatively minor problems, but most likely not permanent damage. The umbrella term for eye problems caused by too much time looking at screens is “computer vision syndrome,” and the number of people who suffer from it is growing.

A recent news report estimated that 80 million Americans are suffering from computer vision syndrome. In the report, Dr. Rachel Bishop, chief of consulting services at the National Eye Institute (NEI), says a major cause of dryness and fatigue is the fact that people using screens do not blink as often as they should when they are reading on a screen.

“There is a muscle in the eye that focuses the eye on whatever you are looking at,” she says. “The computer terminal is typically further away from a book, and if your focus continues for hours, that muscle tires.”

Not too long ago, there was a ripple of publicity, including this report from ABC News, about the increasing prevalence of nearsightedness in America. The attention followed the release of an NEI study indicating nearsightedness in this country had grown from 25 percent in the 1970s to 41 percent this year in 2009. Some of the reports included speculation that the rise could be linked to texting and other screen time, but much more research needs to be done before that claim can be made with any certainty.

If you are experiencing symptoms of computer vision syndrome, the most important step you can take is to have a comprehensive eye examination. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health recommends that computer users (which is just about all of us these days) have an eye exam before they start working on a computer and once a year thereafter. During your exam, be sure to tell your eye doctor how often you use a computer at work and at home.

Other steps you can take are outlined here. They include paying attention to room lighting, minimizing glare and reflection on monitors and taking frequent breaks.

Take a break from your screens, and when your eyes are rested come back and visit (but don’t forget to blink while you’re here!).

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