Eye doctors: Digital screens affect sight

Published 12:01 am Friday, July 24, 2015

Prolonged exposure to digital screens can have a negative effect on eye health for kids and adults, local optometrists said.

Dr. Bill Tillman of Tillman Family Eye Care said parents should monitor how often their kids are behind computer, phone or tablet screens.

“Twenty-first century children have had access to electronic devices their whole lives,” Tillman said. “Since technology use is expected to continue to climb, we need to make sure that children and parents are aware of the visual risks associated with staring at screens for long periods of time, and take the proper precautions to help alleviate eye and vision problems.”

Some signs of digital eyestrain include burning, itchy or tired eyes, headaches, fatigue, loss of focus, blurred vision, double vision or head and neck pain.

Digital eyestrain is also referred to as computer vision syndrome, which describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA).

Dr. James Barton of Ensight Eye Care said a recent National Institute of Occupational Health journal said that 90 percent of people who spend three or more hours per day behind a computer screen have symptoms of computer vision syndrome.

“We say that young kids should not be on screens, phones and stuff like that,” Barton said. “Of course, we can all get eye fatigue staring at computers. Your blinking rate drops 80 percent sitting in front of a computer.”

Not blinking frequently can cause dry and burning eyes, along with intolerance for contact wearers, Barton said.

Tillman and Barton suggest people take frequent breaks and practice the 20-20-20 rule, which resets the eyes.

“Take a 20-second break, every 20 minutes and view something 20 feet away,” Tillman said.

Barton said while the research is unsettled, studies have concluded that kids that look at computer screens tend to be more near sided. Near sided is a vision condition in which close objects are seen clearly, but objects farther away appear blurred, according to the AOA.

While computer vision syndrome is a big concern, another concern for doctors is the energy, or blue and ultra violet light, the devices give off.

“We’re all trying to get grasp on whether or not a higher frequency of blue wave lengths are the problem,” Barton said. “Blue light is all the talk.”

Barton said doctors do know that ultra violets do cause macular degeneration and cataracts.

Doctors are also studying new research surrounding the increasing amount of time children spend indoors on electronic devices versus the decreasing amount of time they spend playing outside.

“New studies suggest a lack of exposure to sunlight could affect the growth and development of the eyes and vision, possibly contributing to an increase in the number of cases of myopia, or nearsightedness, in younger people in recent years,” Tillman said.