Growing up, we all heard the admonition from our mothers when we sat too close to the television: “You’re going to ruin your eyes!”
Whether or not that warning held value or not, we’ve moved into the digital age when we spend less time nose-pressed to a television screen and more time staring down a computer screen, e-book or other digital device. According to a 2009 study by the Council for Research Excellence, we spend around eight hours a day in front of computer screens and other digital fare for work and play.
So, the question has become: Are those digital screens damaging our eyes like our moms said television screens would?
The answer, according to ophthalmologists and other eye doctors, is, surprisingly, a mixed bag.
Designers have taken eye health into account in their products, providing contrast and size adjustments to reduce eye strain. E-books, doctors say, are actually easier on eyes than their printed counterparts. Most products have evolved to a point where resolution is better than print. You can increase the type size at will, and change both contrast and brightness settings, making a binge-read of the latest New York Times best-seller easier on your eyes.
Computer screens, too, have become as flexible. But since we tend to use them for work projects, which often require intense focus, researchers say they come with inherent dangers of their own.
One, in particular, is “dry eye syndrome” “” when we’re focused on the screen, we tend to blink less, which can lead to dry eyes. Dry eyes are annoying, but dry eye syndrome can lead to bigger problems.
Over time, repeated dryness can start to break down the surface of the cornea, according to the American Academy of Opthalmology (AAO). If you wear contact lenses, that deterioration makes its easier for infections to set in. Long-term dryness and related infections can damage your vision, and the longer it goes on, the harder it can be to treat, doctors say.
Academy researchers are quick to point out that you don’t have to avoid your computer screen, though. You just have to take a few simple precautions:
- Adjust your screen. Reduce glare on the screen. Find the contrast and brightness levels that are easiest on your eyes.
- Be aware. Think “blink.” As strange as it sounds, if you keep that involuntary reflex in mind, you’ll be more likely to be aware when you’ve been staring too long. AAO doctors suggest you take a break every 20 minutes, and look away from the screen. Preferably, look at an object far away to change focus. Do it for at least 20 seconds. The break will reduce the chance of dry eye syndrome while giving your eyes a rest.
- Wear your glasses. Contacts increase your changes of dry eye syndrome. Put on your glasses, rather than try to squint your way through that report. Squinting reduces your natural urge to blink while increasing eye strain.
The seasons also play a part in eye problems, according to the Academy. Dry eyes are more likely in the winter, when we’re shut up indoors with the heat on.
Mom never mentioned that.