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Screen Time and Eye Health: Exploring the Relationship

In today’s digital age, where screens dominate our daily lives, concerns about the impact of screen time on eye health have become increasingly prevalent. With the rise of smartphones, tablets, computers, and televisions, many individuals find themselves glued to screens for extended periods. 

This begs the question: What effect does excessive screen time have on our eyesight? Let’s delve into the relationship between screen time and eye health and explore the potential effects, ways to mitigate them, and how to maintain healthy eyes in a digital world.

Does Screen Time Affect Your Eyesight?

Research suggests that prolonged screen time can indeed have adverse effects on eyesight. While there is no evidence excessive screen time can lead to permanent damage to the eyes, one of the primary concerns is digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome. Symptoms of computer vision syndrome include eye strain, sore eyes, headaches, dry eyes, blurry vision, and neck and shoulder pain. 

These symptoms occur due to risk factors such as prolonged focusing on screens, poor lighting, and improper viewing distances. Additionally, blue light emitted by screens and other devices has been linked to disruptions in sleep patterns and potential long-term retinal damage. 

Aside from computer vision syndrome, another condition that results from using digital devices for an extended time is Dry Eye Syndrome. A chronic condition, Dry Eye Syndrome develops when an individual doesn’t seek treatment with an eye doctor and deals with discomfort for years. Dry Eye Syndrome symptoms include stinging and scratchy eyes which can increase the likelihood of eye injury.

While occasional use of digital devices may not cause significant harm, too much screen time can exacerbate computer vision syndrome or dry eye syndrome and lead to more serious eye conditions over time.

Can Blue Light Damage Eyes?

Yes, blue light can potentially damage the eyes, particularly when exposure is prolonged or occurs at high intensities. Blue light is a type of visible light with short wavelengths and high energy levels, emitted by digital screens, LED lights, and sunlight. It’s well-known that blue light exposure from the sun can increase the risk of diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts. 

When it comes to screens, however, while there is no known evidence of permanent damage, research suggests that prolonged exposure to blue light from screens can contribute to digital eye strain, sleep disturbances, and eye infections.

While the eyes have natural defenses against blue light, such as the cornea and crystalline lens, excessive exposure can overwhelm these defenses and lead to oxidative stress and cellular damage in the retina. Additionally, blue light exposure, particularly before bedtime, can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle, affecting sleep quality and overall health.

Is Using ‘Dark Mode’ Better for the Eyes?

Smartphones, apps, and websites these days have a ‘dark mode’ option that is characterized by ‘positive polarity’, or using light text over a dark background. A study published in an international journal in 2013 showed that positive polarity allowed people to see details better. 

The study stated that using dark mode or night does have some benefit in how easily the eyes can adjust. “The contrast and colors used in night mode reduce glare and is meant to help our eyes adjust more easily to surrounding light, leading to less eye strain and easier, comfortable reading,” said the researchers involved in the study. 

Is There a Link Between Myopia and Excessive Digital Screen Time?

Yes, there is evidence suggesting a link between myopia (nearsightedness) and excessive digital screen time, particularly among children and adolescents. It is also known that around one-third of young adults in their 20s show myopia progression. 

Myopia occurs when the eye grows too long or the cornea is too curved, causing light rays to focus in front of the retina instead of directly on it, resulting in blurred distance vision. While genetics play a significant role in myopia development, environmental factors, including prolonged near work such as reading and screen time, have also been implicated

Moreover, the increased time spent indoors engaged in using a computer monitor or using other electronic devices may reduce exposure to natural light, which is thought to play a protective role against myopia. Studies have shown a correlation between the amount of time spent on digital devices and the prevalence of myopia, particularly in regions where screen usage is high. However, further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms underlying this association.

What Is the Maximum Screen Time for Healthy Eyes?

Determining the maximum screen time for healthy eyes is challenging, as individual tolerance varies depending on factors such as age, visual acuity, and overall health. However, experts generally recommend adhering to the 20-20-20 rule and taking frequent breaks to prevent eye strain. 

Additionally, limiting total screen use to no more than two hours per day for children and adolescents is advised by organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. For adults, balancing screen time with regular breaks and other activities is key to mitigating potential eye health risks. It’s also crucial to be mindful of the quality of screen time, prioritizing activities that are beneficial or necessary while minimizing unnecessary exposure to screens.

Does Reducing Screen Time Improve Eyesight?

Reducing screen time can indeed have a positive impact on eye health. By taking a break from time to time, practicing the 20-20-20 rule (every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds), and ensuring proper ergonomics and lighting, individuals can reduce eye strain and prevent further eye problems. 

Moreover, limiting screen time before bedtime can help regulate sleep patterns and reduce exposure to blue light, promoting better overall eye health. Engaging in activities that don’t involve screens, such as outdoor recreation, reading physical books, or socializing face-to-face, can also provide much-needed relief for tired eyes and contribute to maintaining healthy vision.

How Do You Reverse Eye Damage From Screen Time?

While staring at a screen for long periods may cause eye damage, there are steps individuals can take to mitigate its effects and even reverse some of the damage. Dr. Matt Starr, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, gives some tips on how to reduce eye discomfort. 

Practice Good Screen Habits

Maintaining proper posture, adjusting screen brightness and contrast settings, making the font size bigger, and using blue light filters or glasses can help alleviate digital eye strain.

Spend Time Outdoors

One great way to get you to take a break from your computer screen is to spend less time indoors and go out. According to the American Optometric Association, researchers believe that UV light plays an important role in eye development, as long as the eyes are protected from intense sunlight.

This is especially true among kids, as children’s eyes are still growing, and using the computer at such a young age may increase the likelihood of nearsightedness. Kids who spend time playing outdoors for 40 minutes have a lower risk of getting myopia as this allows their eyes to focus on various objects at different distances compared to children who focus on a computer or smartphone every day.

Keep a Distance

Watching TV or using the computer with your nose pressed up against the screen is never a good thing. Instead, keep a good distance between yourself and your device to reduce the risk of demand on your eyes.

Use Special Glasses

Glasses with blue light-blocking coating can lessen eye strain for some people. While there is not enough science to support or deny the benefit of these glasses, they can still help reduce the brightness of the screen of your device compared to the rest of the room. You can wear them for at least a few hours of your time in front of the screen.

Incorporate Eye Exercises

You may end up developing all sorts of vision problems due to all that screen time. To reduce eye discomfort and prevent further damage, you should incorporate eye exercises into your daily routine.

Regular Eye Exams

Scheduling an eye exam regularly with an eye doctor can detect any underlying health issues early on and provide personalized recommendations for preserving and improving vision.

Final Note

Screens have become an integral part of modern life but it’s crucial to be mindful of their potential impact on the eyes. Too much smartphone use or staring at the computer screen for hours can cause eye problems such as computer vision syndrome, dry eye syndrome, and other vision-related disturbances. 

These eye issues can be mitigated by adopting healthy screen habits and taking breaks from computer screens. Additionally, you should also seek professional guidance from eye care specialists to help reverse eye damage and promote long-term vision wellness.

Tricia Montano

Tricia founded Pain Free Working in 2019 due to suffering from degenerative disc disease in her L5-S1 from working an office job for the past 18 years. She and her team strive on finding and reviewing the best office equipment to help fellow pain sufferers find relief and to enable people like her to do their jobs comfortably.