Tech Vision. Is Your Smartphone Ruining Your Eyesight?
That lovely luminous digital light and that exciting feed and those teeny tiny little comments on Tik Tox that make you hold your phone up so close to your face so you can see that funny thing someone said--are just two of the tech-culprits that can affect your eyesight.
With 28% of American Adults saying "I'm online almost constantly,"
Tech Vision is an issue moving to the forefront.
We're looking at digital screens sooo much, that, of course, our eye health has to also be affected sooo much. According to Nielsen’s Q2 2017 Total Audience Report, generally, American adults consume about 66 hours of content per week via screens. My eyes hurt just thinking about it.
And I'm not alone. The Vision Council says 80% of American adults report using digital devices for more than two hours per day with 59% report experiencing symptoms of digital eye strain.
Tech vision is a catch-all term for how computers, screens, smartphones and bright TV's can damage or change the health of your eyes. It includes
- Digital Eye Strain
- Macular Degeneration and Cancer
- Blue Light
We'll cover what each condition is and give you a step by step plan to conquer or avoid all of them.
During a recent eye exam with an ophthalmologist — my first eye exam since grade school - lucky me - I found out I had started to develop near-sightedness or myopia, as it’s medically termed.
Myopia means that close objects look clear but things that are farther away look blurry.
The World Health Organization Says Myopia is A Global Priority
Myopia is trending and it actually has been increasing in recent decades right along with the increase in the use of smartphones and other technology in our lives.
In fact, it is one of the five ocular conditions that are considered an immediate priority by the World Health Organization's Global Initiative for the Elimination of Avoidable Blindness.
Physically, myopia occurs if the eyeball is too long or the cornea (the clear front cover of the eye) is too curved. This structure means that the light entering the eye isn't being focused correctly. For kids, this means the white board at school can look blurry and so can the other side of the playground.
Genetics, Higher Education, Urbanization, Near Work and Myopia
While the exact cause of myopia isn’t clear, there is significant evidence that a big factor might be genetics A study of 31,677 participants revealed that if parents have myopia, there’s a significant positive association that their child will develop myopia and it’s even more so for kids who have two parents with myopia.
And research has shown that higher levels of education and urbanization have both been associated with people with myopia. It's important to note that even though the tendency to develop myopia can be genetic, whether or not you actually develop it could be affected by how you use your eyes.
The latest study shows that kids who spent considerable time reading, working at a computer, or doing other intense, close visual work, were likely to develop myopia.
Over a Quarter of Kids Developed Myopia Over a 4 Year Period
The study followed 2,000 seven to twelve year olds over a four year period looking at how kids spent time reading, doing school work and working or playing games on computers. They found that just over 27% of the kids in the study became nearsighted.
Why? Well the study concluded that kids were more likely to get myopia if their schedules included two or more hours of cram schooling or coaching. Cram schools are basically intense prep schools where kids are in school longer and doing more work so they can get ahead and train for higher levels of academic excellence.
Cram school, a probable cause of myopia was associated with myopia as well as two other possible culprits: near work and less time outdoors.
There are many studies that show a connection between near work and lack of outdoor activity to myopia.
Near work or close work:
It's looking at things up close. Reading is near work. Holding the phone up close to your face is near work. It turns out that the more near work you engage in, the higher the odds of getting nearsightedness or myopia.
My ophthalmologist did a near work demo for me which I've duplicated in the video here. Check it out. It really does hurt if you concentrate on how your eyes feel when they go from a comfortable gaze to a near work stare referred to as 'accommodation'.
Clinical journals say eye accommodation is actually a change in the shape of your eye lens resulting from the action of the cilia muscle on the annular fibers. As I understand it, to put it in simpler language, it's kind of going towards the appearance and the feel of "crossed-eyes".
Here are three studies that make the near-work-nearsightedness connection:
- The Sydney Myopia Study reported that near work such as close reading distance and continuous reading, separately, increased the odds of having myopia
- In 2013, French et al., reported on children in the Sydney Adolescent Vascular and Eye Study and noted that children who became myopic performed significantly more near work
- A systematic review discovered that near-work activities were related with a higher incidence of myopia and that the odds of developing myopia increased by 2% for every one diopter-hour more of weekly near work.
Wondering what a diopter-hour is? Me too. In relation to myopia and near work studies, a diopter-hour is a unit of measurement that determines the distance someone must be from a text to read it.
Watching Your Phone On A Stand
Use A Stylus And It's Even Better!
Doing More Near Work Than Ever?
Think about it, fifteen years ago before it was normal for everyone to have a cellphone, everyone was probably doing a lot more reading. We read newspapers, magazines and books, but we didn't read them constantly. We didn't stand in line at the bank, the DMV or the grocery store reading a magazine. We didn't go to the movies and read or write a letter, we didn't go to church and look at a local newspaper to see what our friends were doing and we didn't go out to dinner reading reviews or checking Yelp to see what people recommended ordering.
Yeah, we're doing more near work and chances are a lot more of us will be getting a myopia diagnosis and some cute glasses to go with it.
Our Cellphone Stand Adjusts To So Many Different Angles- WE love it!
Or we can reel it in. Spend less time screen-staring and more time playing outdoors.
More Time Outdoors Means Less Chance Of Myopia
This is such great news on so many levels! Several recent epidemiological studies suggest that more time spent outdoors might actually protect against the development and progression of myopia.
Science still hasn't figured out exactly how or why being outside works, but there are a couple of theories:
Is Dopamine Decreasing Nearsightedness?
In a Systematic Review of Myopia, the authors discuss “light-dopamine theory” which theorizes that increased light intensity during time spent outdoor protects against myopia due to the increased release of dopamine.
Or Is Vitamin D Protecting Us From Myopia?
And there was the “vitamin D theory” hypothesis that the increased ultraviolet light triggers the stimulation of vitamin D production, with a direct protection against myopia development.
There are several studies that tie dopamine and the fact that it's stimulated by the light our retinas receive, to avoiding myopia. In one study, they cover chicks eyes and find they don't make the dopamine they would if their eyes weren't covered and then in another, they find that chicks who get dopamine injections, even though their eyes had been covered and they were experiencing negative vision effects, received the protective effect of the dopamine and developed less myopia.
Or it could be the Brightness of the Light that Works to Prevent Myopia
If you look at the work done studying the effects of the high intensity light on chicks, you'll see why some researchers believe it's the light itself. They found that exposing animals to direct sunlight or intense indoor lights is preventative of the development of myopia in chicks.
They called it high ambient illuminances. That sounds nice and bright doesn't it?
They conclude with this:
The development of myopia in chicks can be significantly retarded by exposing them to higher levels of ambient illumination produced by exposure to either direct sunlight or intense indoor lights. The current findings suggest that the apparent protective effect afforded to children by time outdoors . . . can be explained, in part, by exposure to higher ambient illuminances. In general, the results of this study may suggest that children who are exposed daily to outdoor natural light, as experienced by spending time outdoors, are less likely to develop school-age myopia.
Report After Report, The Verdict Is In: Being Outside Helps Prevent Myopia
Results from seven studies were pooled in a meta-analysis that concluded that kids who spend more time indoors are more likely to develop myopia.
And here's something that will makes me want to go outside and play for sure:
Researchers found that for every extra hour children spent outdoors each week, their risk of being nearsighted dropped by about 2%.
To Help Prevent Myopia:
Know Your Genetic Risk. Talk To Your Parents And Your Eye Doctor
Limit Daily Near Work, i.e. close up staring at screens and intense close up work to under two hours each day
Go Outside and Play, Exercise or Enjoy the Daylight.
Digital eye strain
Just thinking about looking at a brightly lit computer, can make our eyes hurt. UGH! We wouldn't stare at a bright sunlit blue horizon for hours on end. In the same way, our eyes weren't meant to stare at a blue light filled screen all day.
But that's what we do. And that screen light is not only full of blue light, but LED light is pulsating or flickering-making it hard on our physiology as well. The digital blue light combination of high amounts of energy and short wavelengths, make our eyes struggle to focus as the blue light scatters.
Eye strain can cause headaches and brain fog among other symptoms.
Our eyes use muscles and like any other muscles in our body, they can get tired from over-use. Staring at computers, smart phones and tablets, plays a major part in your eye exhaustion.
That collection of symptoms is now in a Tech Vision bucket labeled, Digital Eye StrainThe Vision Council reports that the numbers breakdown like so:
Americans report experiencing the following symptoms of digital eye strain:
32.4% report experiencing eye strain
27.2% report experiencing dry eyes
27.7% report experiencing headaches
27.9% report experiencing blurred vision
35% report experiencing neck and shoulder pain
Additionally, close to 80% report using digital devices, including TV, in the hour before going to sleep.
TO HELP ALLEVIATE DIGITAL EYE STRAIN
Take Frequent Breaks From Digital Devices. That's the number one recommendation from the National Institute of Eye Health to the Vision Council.
Incorporate the 20-20-2 Rule. Every 20 minutes take your eyes off the screen, and focus on something 20 feet away for just 20 seconds. Every 2 hours, away for at least 15 minutes. Balance, my friend, balance.
Make sure your screen isn't too close. Computer screens should be an arms length away - this helps prevent the near-work issues discussed above.
Adjust The Light. Keep the light level of the screen matching the light level of the room as much as possible. The contrast of the screen light to background light can cause the strain
Adjust The Screen. Research found that eyes are most comfortable when the top of the monitor is even with your eyes. and the monitor is angled back very slightly because when your gaze is slightly down just 15 degrees, your eye muscles are more relaxed.
Try Glasses. Ask your eye doctor and also try blue blocking orange glasses and blue blocking screen protectors. They not only help prevent the blue light effects on your body, but also can relax your eyes and prevent digital glare.
Dr. Natalie Azar on NBC's Today Show explains that everyone should go see an optometrist or an ophthalmologist once a year. She says the Vision Council recommends it, not just for Digital Eyestrain, but for existing and possibly new eye or vision concerns.
And tired, strained eyes are just the beginning of the digital blue light effects.
1. Blue Light from Computer Screens Affects Sleep Patterns And Mood
Smartphones and screens emit luminous blue light so you can see the display, even on the sunniest days. However, your brain gets confused by blue light at night, as those azure emissions actually mimic the sun. Makes sense, right?
Blue light suppresses the production of a sleep-regulating hormone known as melatonin. A research project of adults aged 37 to 75 showed how circadian rhythm disruption had a big effect on their well-being.
2. Melatonin is a Mighty Hormone
Lack of melatonin has been linked not only to problems with sleep, but also to inflammation, immune function, and even cancer. Green Med Info has a stunning list of 415 abstracts of melatonin studies.
Robert M. Sargis MD, PhD explains the basics of how our bodies make and use melatonin in EndocrineWeb:
Located deep in the center of the brain, the pineal gland, once known as the “third eye”, produces melatonin.
- The pineal gland produces melatonin, which helps maintain circadian rhythm and regulate reproductive hormones. Pineal cells and neuroglia cells (which support the pineal cells) mainly comprise the gland.
- The pineal gland secretes a single hormone—melatonin
- Melatonin is special because its secretion is dictated by light.
- Light exposure stops the release of melatonin, and in turn, helps control your circadian rhythms.
- Melatonin secretion is low during the daylight hours and high during dark periods.
We found an entire report linking melatonin to an impressive array of anti-cancer benefits. Melatonin inhibits the proliferation of a wide range of cancer cell types, as well as triggering cancer cell apoptosis (self-destruction). The hormone also interferes with the new blood supply tumors require for their rapid growth (angiogenesis). It can even help chemotherapy be more effective and lower its toxicity.
Research on blue light and eyes is now revealing a connection to serious vision damage like macular degeneration and even melanoma of the eye.
The University of Toledo released research that identified how blue light (natural and digital) can really harm your vision. Here's an excerpt from the article about the research in the UT News “It’s toxic. If you shine blue light on retinal, the retinal kills photoreceptor cells as the signaling molecule on the membrane dissolves,” said Kasun Ratnayake, a PhD student researcher working in Dr. Ajith Karunarathne's cellular photo chemistry group. “Photoreceptor cells do not regenerate in the eye. When they’re dead, they’re dead for good.” Dr. Karunarathne, assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, introduced retinal molecules to other cell types in the body, such as cancer cells, heart cells and neurons. When exposed to blue light, these cell types died as a result of the combination with retinal. Blue light alone or retinal without blue light had no effect on cells. “No activity is sparked with green, yellow or red light,” Karunarathne said. “The retinal-generated toxicity by blue light is universal. It can kill any cell type.” The lab currently is measuring light coming from television, cell phone and tablet screens to get a better understanding of how the cells in the eyes respond to everyday blue light exposure. It's pretty serious folks. And, notice that the process happens with any blue light exposure digital or otherwise, so sunglasses are a must-and being diligent about wearing them is even more important than we first thought.
Ask your eye doctor and also try blue blocking orange glasses and blue blocking screen protectors. They not only help prevent the blue light effects on your body, but also can relax your eyes and prevent digital glare.
TOP 10 WAYS TO DEAL WITH DIGITAL BLUE LIGHT
The key to blocking blue light is to know how much you're blocking and "layer it" like sunscreen. As the sun sets, your eyes need to start getting less and less blue light, so that a good 2-3 hours before sleep, you're not getting much blue light if any.
1. Eliminate 35% on your Devices
Start by filtering some blue light and digital glare by investing in a Screen Protector that not only protects from scratches but also includes a blue blocking film that goes over your phone, tablet or laptop screen.
2. Filter or Block Around 50% of Blue Light In That's All Around You
You can also try the lighter or clear "blue-light-blocking" glasses that are offered just about everywhere these days. Their manufacturers claim that they block up to 50% of the higher range of the spectrum. Personally, we find the ones with warmer tones make our eyes feel better; you can explore these from our favorite Gunners Felix Gray to Quay,
3. Eliminate up to 75% of Blue Light with Amber glasses
- Certified to Block 75% of blue light in the 400 to 700nm range, these soften and filter some blue light and give your eyes nice relief with amber lenses. This amber tint actually adds clarity and protection. We recommend them for all daytime screen use, especially for kids. Many participants in the study of blue light and insomnia referenced below wore amber glasses two hours before bed and slept better.
4. Eliminate 86% of Blue Light during the day with Orange Tinted glasses
- We like to keep these orange-tinted glasses on our desks to use anytime we want to avoid digital blue light and let our eyes relax. The warm tones really help soften screens as well as block a lot of nasty blue light.
5. Eliminate 96% of Blue Light and Protect Eyes and Sleep with Expresso Glasses
When you need the big guns to maximize melatonin production and blue light blocking, go for the ultra-dark lens of these glasses. We use them when it's dark and we're inside under artificial light, watching any screen from TV to YouTube to Hulu or scrolling on our phones. Our go to solution for a good night's sleep: Coffee tinted lenses.
6. Use Software to Adjust the Range Of Blue Light On Your Device
- Install Flux on your computer screen. It can change the color temperature of you screen to eliminate much of the blue light your screen emits, however, be aware that you'll still be exposed to the digital LED lighting that is part of any screen.
- Give Nightshift a whirl on your iPhone and program it to come on at 7:00 pm. It gives you the ability to adjust the blue light on the screen to warmer tones. You can set it up to come on automatically at any time. Just like with Flux, you won't eliminate the LED lighting from the screen, but the warmer tones will help with the color of light to which you're exposed.
7. For a Good Night's Sleep, Be Mindful of Other Sources of Blue Light In Your Home
- Change bedroom lighting to softer light and ditch the bight night light in favor of warm orange colored light, like a salt-lamp.
8. Be Aware Of The Light On Your Screen
- Use screens that are not backlit (like some e-readers). Always try to match the screen brightness to the level of light in the room for less eye strain.This is really great way to decrease eye strain.
9. Watch TV--At At Distance
- Mom may not approve, but it's actually healthier for your eyes to watch TV than to read a book on your phone or tablet. The farther you are from a screen, the better it is for your eyes, plus you're skin benefits too. Even better: wear orange or expresso glasses while you watch TV.
10 Make It Dark
Create a dark sleeping space. Try a battery operated or analog clock that doesn't have a digital read out. We like this one because the "night-light" has a nice warm tone and can be turned off completely and then only accessed when you press the button at the top.
So here's how I deal with screens and digital blue light in my daily life. I've re-set my circadian rhythm so that I automatically wake (without an alarm clock) every morning at 7:15. I try to get an hour of natural light sometime throughout the day. I use an Ocushield screen protector: I like that it protects my skin, my eyes from strain and also from a bit of screen blue light. Then, after 4:00 in the winter and 6:00 PM in the summer, I'll grab orange glasses when I look at a screen. Later in the evening, watching TV or scrolling, I LOVE my dark espresso glasses. They make my eyes feel so relaxed.
- My computer monitor is nice and big and is about two feet from my eyes and is positioned so that when I look straight ahead--the top of the monitor is even with my eyes.
- The monitor is angled back very slightly because if I gaze down just 15 degrees my eye muscles are more relaxed.
- I'm all about the 20-20-2 minute rule. Every twenty minutes I take my eyes off the screen and look 20 feet away for 2 minutes--experts say just 20 seconds of looking away is all that's needed to reduce eye strain--but I like to treat myself and think of 2 things I'm thankful for (right now, I'm thankful that you're here).
- I make it a point to adjust my computer screen brightness to the brightness of the light in the room. I LOVE natural light and always turn off any fluorescent lights I see, but even LED's or nice halogen lights can be annoying and make it hard for my eyes to adjust to the screen. I have a beautiful view of an adorable downtown street out my office window, however, as the sun goes down and I stare right at the glare just past my computer, then it's time for glasses or time to call it a day.
So, let's take care of those peepers!