Digital eye strain in 2019: Problems, causes, and possible solutions

We Americans spend 42% of our hours awake connected to devices, a figure trending upwards over the past five years. Sound startling? It is—studies show that this increased digital time may be responsible for the recent rise in myopia and other visual impairments across the population. Is there anything we can do to prevent this? Perhaps more importantly, are such solutions implementable in our increasingly tech-driven lives?

Increased screen exposure has become a problem in recent years due to the widespread availability of technology to children during early years of their lives. Specifically, ages five through ten are part of a developmental phase in which children understand and interact with the world. Their exposure to the world outside helps form critical brain connections, such as wiring a reward system, refining problem solving techniques, and improving their social interactions. Hence, when kids spend much of their free time connected to devices, they lose out on other important aspects of childhood, including social interactions, outdoor playtime, and real-world skills.

Yet, digital eye strain negatively affects adults just as much as it impacts kids. In a survey, 73% of Americans felt “physically tired” after extended computer usage, and over half noticed that their visual acuity was deteriorating as a result. Long-term eye strain can contribute to the onset of myopia, which can progress to blindness later on in life. Furthermore, eye strain affects one’s emotional well-being, due to gradual feelings of tiredness and haziness from device overuse.

Given these negatives, it’s clear why one should, at the very least, pay attention to their screen usage. Although breaking this cycle may be difficult, it may be well worth the reward of a fulfilling life, free of the negatives of addiction.

Here are a few things one can do to progress in that direction:

1. Take frequent screen breaks

If  you close your eyes for as little as twenty seconds every twenty minutes on the computer, this may help your eye muscles release the strain that has built up. If twenty seconds isn’t enough, don’t hesitate to “take 15” for a quick powernap. As a student, I can attest that this has helped me to continue working at home even after a busy day at school; not only does a small break benefit one’s eyes, it may help you continue working more efficiently than before. Especially for those leading fast-paced lives, it may be difficult to get a daily eight hours of rest—but fifteen minutes is something most of us can spare.

Enjoying oneself outdoors is a relaxing hobby that is also works as an effective de-stresser. Although many health benefits of outdoor time are known, one previously unexplored benefit is the protection sunlight provides against myopia. New studies have led scientists to speculate that exposure to sunlight could affect the cornea’s curvature, making it less susceptible to myopia. Sure, it’s hard to fully live an outdoor lifestyle. However, incremental changes—for example, eating supper on your porch, doing schoolwork on a table outside, or going for 15-minute morning jogs—may be easier to fit in to your lifestyle wherever you are.  

Last year, Apple released its Screen Time app to almost 700 million iPhones. For Android users, similar apps are freely available on the Google Play Store. These applications take note of the time the user spends on different app and present this info to them so they can change any habits accordingly. For example, a high-school student may spend hours on social media every day without realizing it. Screen time apps can help them take notice of their habits, which is the first step towards meaningful change. I’m aware of the irony—using your phone to help you limit your time on it may seem a little contradictory. Yet, indicators are showing that such techniques are working. Hence, instead of being all-against device usage, which can be impractical for most of us, we should instead find ways to better spend that screen time—spending less time on video games and more connecting with those we care about.

In the twenty-first century, it may be difficult for us to completely abandon the technology so integral to our lifestyles—limiting screen time shouldn’t be so much of a hard rule as a reorientation in mindset: making gradual changes in hope of a healthier future.


Further reading:

“Limit Screen Time among Kids, Experts Caution.” American Heart Association, American Heart Association, 6 Aug. 2018, www.heart.org/en/news/2018/08/06/limit-screen-time-among-kids-experts-caution.

Oosthoek, Sharon. “Outdoor Time Is Good for Your Eyes.” Science News for Students, Society for Science and the Public, 11 Jan. 2019, www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/outdoor-time-good-your-eyes.

Schmall, Tyler. “Americans Spend Half Their Lives in Front of Screens.” New York Post, New York Post, 13 Aug. 2018, www.nypost.com/2018/08/13/americans-spend-half-their-lives-in-front-of-screens/

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