With the new normal of social distancing and staying home more frequently, many people have found themselves and their loved ones watching television and using their phones or computers more than they typically would. In the past few months, streaming services including Netflix, YouTube and Amazon have seen an 18% increase in usage of their downloading and viewing platforms. In addition, many in-person meetings and appointments have transitioned to video conference calls.

Computer vision strain has overtaken carpal tunnel syndrome as one of the main computer-relate syndromes. Seventy percent of adults report some sort of computer vision strain these days.

Most people know that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light can damage the eye and surrounding skin, but what about the high-energy visible (HEV) light being emitted from your smart phone or high-definition TV? Current research suggests that prolonged exposure to HEV blue-violet light from artificial light sources has damaging effects to the retina that resemble early stage age-related maculopathy.

HEV light is all around us. Outdoors, we are exposed to HEV light in the sun’s rays, and some blue light exposure is essential for good health, boosting alertness, memory and mood. That dose is compounded, however, when our eyes receive HEV light emitted from indoor sources such as fluorescent bulbs and light-emitting diode (LED) screens – LED TVs, iPhones and computer screens.

The longer a person is exposed to HEV the greater the risk. Children are at higher risk because the crystalline lens within the eye is completely clear, whereas adults have some degree of yellowing of the lens, which helps to absorb HEV light and prevent damage to the retina. Children could slip into what’s called early onset presbyopia which means they may need a bifocal if their eyes can’t tolerate accommodating for long periods of time.

The effects of HEV blue light can be combated by eating a healthy diet rich in antioxidants, daily supplementation with Vitamin C and E, and reducing time spent looking at cell phones, laptops and TV screens.

Individuals who spend a great deal of time looking at electronic devices and screens can protect their eyes from excessive HEV light with special filters available for smartphones, tablets and computer screens that prevent significant amounts of blue light from reaching the eyes without affecting the visibility of the display. Another option is to filter out high-energy blue light with a coating added to eyeglasses or using special filtering non-corrective lenses.

Here are some tips for keeping your eyes healthy:

Set limits for yourself: Set a regular time for watching television and try to keep it under three and a half hours; less if you spend a lot of time in front of your computer for work. Stop screen time two hours before you go to bed.

Take regular breaks: Set time throughout the day to get up from your computer and let your eyes rest. Every 20 minutes you should look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds (20/20/20 rule) to help your eyes relax. Designate screen-free times, such as mealtimes, or do a physical task, such as folding laundry or going for a short walk to keep you moving.

Be active during screen time: Stretch or do gentle yoga while watching your favorite shows or challenge your family to see who can do the most push-ups during a commercial break.

Create screen-free bedrooms: Screen time too close to bedtime can disrupt sleep. Keeping TVs and computers out of the bedroom makes it easier to create periods of rest.

Reduce ease of access: If possible, create a charging station for your phone or tablet that keeps it close by but not in arms’ reach. This reduces the chance that you will reach for it every time you have moments of downtime.

Turn off the camera: Turn your camera off during video conferences if you are able and consider catching up with friends via phone while taking a walk. This not only gives your eyes a rest from the screen but allows for more physical activity as well.

To schedule an eye exam with UofL Physicians Eye Specialists call 502-588-0550.

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Article by: Patrick Scott, O.D., Ph.D.

Patrick A. Scott, O.D., Ph.D., is an optometrist with UofL Physicians – Eye Specialists and is also an assistant professor at the UofL School of Medicine in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. Dr. Scott received his bachelor’s degree from Canisius College in New York and his doctor of optometry degree from the New England College of Optometry. He completed his residency and fellowship at Boston University School of Medicine. He is member of the American Academy of Optometry, American Optometric Association, Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, International Society for Eye Research, American Association of Clinical Anatomists, Kentucky Optometric Association, Optometric Retina Society and Sports Vision Society.

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