As ~magical~ as technology has made our lives (without Snapchat, how else would you know what you'd look like as a baby deer with a munchkin voice?), it also has its downfalls. It's pretty much ruining our attention span, memory, and relationships. It's making us fat and lazy, and it's skyrocketing our risk of disease. Not to mention, it's giving us anxiety and a wonderful thing called "tech neck."
But obviously there are a ton of benefits too (keeping in touch with far-away friends, working remotely), and there's a slim-to-none chance that the human race will give it up anytime soon. In the meantime, though, there's one more thing to add to the list of reasons why you should try not to be on a device every second of every day: your kinda-sorta-important ability to see things.
What Are Digital Eye Strain and Computer Vision Syndrome?
You know how sleepy and "blah" you feel after a long workday? There's a chance that's from computer vision syndrome, aka having tired, sore, often irritated eyes and blurry vision from sitting in front of a computer for hours on end. But you don't need to be parked at a desk to get hit with this condition. This physical eye discomfort may be felt after two or more hours of any screen use per day, and is generally referred to as digital eye strain, says Justin Bazan, O.D., optometrist and medical advisor to The Vision Council.
Digital eye strain (the general term) is super common, with 31 percent of Americans (and a whopping 68 percent of millennials!) reporting experiencing eye strain—22 percent experience dry eyes, headaches, and/or vision problems, and 30 percent have neck and shoulder pain after two-plus hours of screen time per day, according to a report by The Vision Council. Not all that surprising, considering 52 percent of people admit to using two devices simultaneously each day. (Uh, BTW, multitasking with devices is literally re-wiring your brain. And not in a good way.)
Some really good news: Many of these symptoms are only temporary and will decline when you take a break from your devices, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). Plus, research has yet to show that the blue light emitted from devices (also called high energy visible light or HEV) results in enough damage to cause permanent vision loss, says Bazan.
But that doesn't mean excessive screen time won't cause other issues: Research suggests that blue light exposure may result in damage to the retina plus long-term vision problems such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts, says Bazan. Not to mention, it might suppress the natural release of melatonin, disrupting sleep, and be effing with your metabolism. Not cool. One study in the New England Journal of Medicine even found that reading a screen with one eye closed can cause temporary blindness in one eye. Yikes.
How to Prevent and Treat Digital Eye Strain
No one's saying you need to give up all tech and retreat to live an unplugged hermit life in the woods. However, you can do some simple things to minimize the strain on your eyes and overall discomfort. (Also try adding these yoga poses into your workout routine to combat bad posture caused by constant tech use.)
For one, look at your screen set up (especially if you spend a lot of time in front of a computer). The closer something is to your eyes, the more they have to focus and turn in. For most people, that can lead to a more rapid onset and intensity of symptoms, says Bazan. A good rule of thumb is to focus on a screen that's an arm's-length away.
"While I have yet to see concrete evidence, anecdotally, working on a larger screen, with larger fonts, that are of high resolution, seems to help stave off symptoms, especially when the person is wearing a customized pair of digital eyewear," says Bazan.
Yep, you can get special glasses to help specifically with eye strain from using devices: If you regularly wear glasses, anti-reflective and blue light-blocking treatments can be added to your lenses, or you can get non-prescription glasses with the same treatment if your vision is already 20/20. And, FYI, if your vision prescription is outdated or incorrect, it could be making digital eye strain symptoms worse, says Bazan. (All the more reason to get on top of your yearly checkups.)
And last but not least, develop a wandering eye—the good kind. Both The Vision Council and the AOA recommend following the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, take a break from looking at a screen for 20 seconds by looking at something 20 feet away. (Better yet? Walk around for two minutes. It'll help reduce the health risks of all that sitting.)
On the bright side? If you've ever wanted to get glasses but have perfect vision, now you totally have an excuse to grab a trendy pair in the name of ~health~.