Do Your Tired Eyes a Favor

June 25, 2014

By David Blyweiss, M.D.

In This Issue:

  • Don’t let this modern-day eye epidemic catch you off-guard
  • How digital technology is blurring your vision
  • Get rid of itchy, scratchy and tired eyes forever

I have more than my share of patients who come in complaining about dry, scratchy and burning eyes. Some of them have headaches and blurred vision. Other symptoms include neck and back pain.

I’m not the only doc hearing these complaints. They’re happening all around the world!

Back in the 1950s – even the 60s, 70s and 80s – this would have been called an epidemic. Scientists, researchers and medical professionals across the globe would be working overtime to diagnose, cure and prevent this horrible “eye disease” that’s running amok.

But things have changed quite a bit over the past few decades. And in this case, the problem is very clear.

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It’s not a disease at all. I’d even venture to say the cause of the problem is “right in front of your eyes.”

The culprit is modern technology.

You see, for hours and hours every day, our eyes are focused on iPads, Kindles, tablets, Smartphones and computer screens. This technology is great! A swipe of the finger gives you immediate access to information that would have taken days of research 10 or 15 years ago. It’s like having a personal library in your pocket.

And I have to admit, I’m not immune. These devices allow me to share life-saving information with thousands of my readers every day. It’s miraculous.

But at the same time, it’s taking a toll on our eyes. In fact, about 70% of Americans experience vision symptoms while using their electronic devices. And you might be one of them.

Even if you use your computer or Smartphone for only a few hours each day, it can cause dry eyes, blurred vision, irritation, eye fatigue, headaches and neck or back pain.

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Why is technology affecting our eyes this way? And what can you do about it?

Digital information is composed of thousands of tiny pixels. More pixels make images sharp and clear. But if you’re not using top-of-the-line products, you might be viewing fewer pixels than your eyes know how to deal with.

This can make things look fuzzy and distorted. Your eyes know that, so they work overtime to interpret the images. It’s a natural response, but it also stresses and strains your precious eyes.

At the same time, modern font styles can be a little confusing. They have curves, lines and little ticks (called serifs) at the ends of the letters. This makes it hard for your eyes to identify and interpret them.

So, what do you do? You lean closer to get a better view. In fact, you probably hold your phone two to nine inches closer than you would hold a newspaper or book. This might help you see the text better. But it can also lead to eye irritation, strain and pain.

Worse yet, holding your device closer to your eyes can compound the problem. That’s because bringing the screen up close puts you right into the intense blue light of the device. Blue light is great from a technological point of view, but not so good for your eye health.

When the blue light hits the lens of your eye, it causes surrounding objects to go in and out of focus. You try to compensate by squinting. But that really doesn’t help. It just makes your eyes feel fatigued.

You might think wearing prescription glasses or contact lenses would help bring everything into focus. But when it comes to digital technology, that’s not necessarily the case.

Oddly enough, prescription lens wearers are even more likely to have symptoms of digital eye strain than people who don’t wear them. That’s because most prescriptions aren’t designed for computer use. Regular bifocals, trifocals and progressive lenses won’t give you a good correction for the mid-range distance of a computer.

Now, here’s the thing. Technology isn’t going to slow down any time soon. Every year we rely more and more on our laptops, tablets and Smartphones.

But your eyes don’t have to pay the price for all this convenience. Here are some things you can do to protect your vision…

Follow my 20-20-20 rule. If you’re working on your computer all day or spend a lot of time on other devices, take a 20-second break every 20 minutes. Then look at something about 20 feet away. This will give your eyes a few moments to relax and regain their focus.

Remind yourself to blink. I know you’ve probably been “in the zone” more times than you can count. You zero in on a computer or phone screen and completely forget to blink. Your eyes start drying out and become irritated. But there are tiny glands around your eyelids that become activated every time you blink. So the more often you blink, the more moisture you’ll deliver to your dry eyes.

Dim surrounding lights.
The lights in your room or office can create “glare” on your digital screens. On a Smartphone, iPad or Kindle, this can make them very difficult to view. It also makes it harder to see what’s on your computer screen. So, turn down any lights that are competing with your screen.

I also suggest boosting your omega-3 levels. It’s a good idea to eat at least two servings of cold-water fish each week to replenish the oils that soothe and moisten your eyes. The best choices are sardines, salmon, tuna, anchovies, halibut and herring.

Choose wild-caught varieties instead of “farmed” fish. The farmed versions are usually raised on a diet high in inflammatory omega-6 fats rather than the healthier omega-3s.

If you aren’t a fish lover, don’t worry. You can always take a fish oil supplement. But don’t buy the first one you run across. They aren’t all created equal. Look for one that contains oil from fresh, wild-caught deep sea fish. And make sure it’s been molecularly distilled and tested for purity. It should include at least 300 mg. of EPA and 200 mg. of DHA.

Rosenfield M. “Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments.” Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2011 Sep;31(5):502-15.

Bababekova Y, et al. “Font size and viewing distance of handheld smart phones.” Optom Vis Sci. 2011 Jul;88(7):795-7

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