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Let’s face it, you’re surrounded by digital screens. The science fiction of the past is now reality. From laptops to tablets to cell phones, our world has gone from analogue to digital very quickly. Modern technology undoubtedly helps society in numerous ways. That same technology, however, also brings negative consequences. A shocking number of people suffer from digital eye strain, a medical condition associated with exposure to artificial blue light. Per a recent study, 90% of the U.S. population risks suffering from it. Symptoms include fatigued, strained, irritated, or itching/burning eyes, headaches, blurry vision, and general fatigue. Furthermore, long-term exposure to blue light has been linked to cataracts, depression, macular degeneration, and other diseases.
Digital Eye Strain Defined
GUNNAR coined the phrase “digital eye strain,” nearly 10 years ago. Since that time, the medical establishment accepted it as official terminology. They have done research (examples of such research may be read here, here, here, here, and here) on the condition, yielding sobering findings about artificial blue light.
The American Optometric Association offers the following definition of digital eye strain:
Computer Vision Syndrome, also referred to as Digital Eye Strain, describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use. Many individuals experience eye discomfort and vision problems when viewing digital screens for extended periods. The level of discomfort appears to increase with the amount of digital screen use. Symptoms associated with Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) or Digital Eye Strain are eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain.
Viewing a computer or digital screen often makes the eyes work harder. As a result, the unique characteristics and high visual demands of computer and digital screen device viewing make many individuals susceptible to the development of vision-related symptoms. Uncorrected vision problems can increase the severity of Computer Vision Syndrome or Digital Eye Strain symptoms. (RE: AOA.org)
What’s the Deal with Blue Light?
Far more intense than the level given off by the sun, the high levels of artificial blue light constantly barraging our eyes packs a heavy punch. Blue is the only color wavelength that penetrates the cornea, directly affecting the retina. Two types of blue light exist: bad blue light (like that produced by personal electronics), ranging from 380 to 470 nanometers, and good blue light (like that produced by the sun) ranging from 470 to 500 nanometers.
Good blue light triggers enzymes and chemicals in the brain that help promote memory and cognitive function. Furthermore, it stimulates the photosensitive retinal ganglion cells that, in turn, stimulate pupillary reflexes and control the circadian rhythm (related to what we often call sleep cycle).
If you want to learn more about the science we’ve only touched on here, you can read what the experts at All About Vision have to say about blue light in their independent analysis. There’s also a whole website dedicated to explaining how blue light can be bad for you. The issues you could potentially suffer when exposed to blue light, as discussed throughout this post, should be taken seriously.
Every day more people feel the negative effects of the advance of technology and the saturation of digital devices in our lives. The Vision Council, the leading organization for championing better vision for better lives, does an annual study on digital eye strain. According to this year’s shocking numbers, more than 83% of Americans use a digital device for more than two hours a day, and of those individuals, over 60% experience symptoms of digital eye strain.
To combat the growing number of symptoms many digital device users experience from this over-exposure to blue light, a demand, and resultant push, for digital solutions to the problem has recently gained traction. Specifically, applications or settings that help diminish the level of artificial blue light being emitted become more accessible every day. Some of these are apps, free to use/install, while other advancements are programmed right into device settings. The orangish hue that takes over the entire screen, though reducing blue light as promised, is not ideal.
Other Factors To Consider
Granted, these technological advances are a great step forward in combatting the growing problems associated with digital eye strain and blue light. However, they still fall short. Digital eye strain, as stated above, is “a group of eye and vision-related problems,” not simply a result of artificial blue light. Three other key factors play into digital eye strain as well.
- The eyes are muscles and work their hardest when looking close up at a digital device all day. It’s like running a marathon and then trying to walk home afterwards: your leg muscles would be too fatigued to carry you, or even stop shaking. This same principle applies to eye muscles.
- It’s a medical fact that blink-rates drop significantly during intense viewing which increases irritation. The harder you gaze at a screen, the less you blink which, in turn, dries out your eyes.
- Glare from digital screens and the fact that they flicker as you try to concentrate on tiny letters or details cause your eyes to quickly become fatigued and irritated which can even lead to headaches.
A Better Solution
Applications and settings let you down in these other areas. Tuning out the blue light might help a little, but it won’t stop all the other symptoms associated with digital eye strain. These apps and expensive color-shifting monitors still expose you to these other eye-straining factors. Besides, if you’re looking at a color-rich image or game, you can’t honestly say you’d prefer to see it bathed in orange, right? This leads to another problem: few people actually take full advantage of a blue-blocking apps or settings. Most likely, this is due to the significant manipulation of colors in how they’re seen on screen, and so blue light still gets through.
Furthermore, masking the color focus or shifting the light spectrum does not change the fact that devices with a screen are illuminated by spikes of artificial light including blue light. Although these solutions may shift the amount of blue light produced naturally by the devices, they do not reduce it enough.
Realistically, these solutions only address one of the causes of digital eye strain. While the technological advances encourage us for a future with greatly reduced symptoms from long term exposure to artificial light, other solutions deserve consideration. Blue light blocking eyewear, today, represents the most promising practical solution. In addition to providing blue light protection, such glasses can help relax the other stresses put upon the eyes, avoid recoloring the screen and help, more holistically, prevent digital eye strain.