Do Your Eyes Need a Digital Detox?

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Oh-good-God yes?

Do you suffer from tired, achy or red eyes? Do you feel general fatigue, especially in the afternoons, drowsiness, blurry inconsistent vision or muscle tics, especially in your face and eyelids? If, like many of us, you spend a large segment of the day staring at a small screen, it could be the sign of a growing problem – Computer Vision Syndrome.

“You might find this hard to believe, but we have patients travel from Perth, Auckland, Melbourne, Darwin for this problem,” says Doctor Jim Kokkinakis, a specialist optometrist and head of the The Eye Practice in Sydney who specialises in blue light issues. “By the time they have seen us, they have chronic problems for over two years that are bordering on debilitating. They have seen multiple ophthalmologists and optometrists and just seem to be spiralling out of control with no light at the end of the tunnel.”

We all know that staring at gadget screens, especially at night, can keep us awake. But, did you know it could also seriously damage your eyesight? In fact, a study by The Vision Council in America found that nearly 70 per cent of adults experience some form of digital eye strain due to prolonged use of electronic devices. The good news is you don’t have to banish technology completely. These small changes can give you clarity.

Rule out violet

Most people know blue-light emitted by electronics can be bad for your health, especially late at night. But when it comes to your eyes, some blue-light is worse than others. “Blue-violet light has been shown to be toxic to the delicate structures of our eyes,” says Doctor Kokkinakis. “It can penetrate deeper into the eye – as far as the retina – and it is emerging in clinical trials that it has a negative effect on the health of the eyes.” His advice? Turn down the heat – on your computer. “It is wise to turn down the contrast and brightness of your screen,” he says. “Better still, choose a low blue light emission screen from a company such as BENQ.” There are also apps that reduce eye-strain when night reading.

Reduce, replace, reflect

Whether you’re trying to protect your own eyes, or that of your children, Dr Kokkinakis teaches the following system: reduce, replace, reflect. “Reduce or limit total exposure to digital screens, and that includes smartphones, iPads, laptops, Wiis and even TV,” he says, “Put the devices away out of sight and replace it with a book before bed. Go outside on your lunch break instead of eating at your desk whilst you’re reading emails.” To reflect blue-light, he advises all his patients wear blue-blocker glasses especially at night. Yes, they’re the ones with the yellow lenses. Gunnars produces blue-blocker glasses engineered to protect the naked eye, reduce visual recovery time and stop the “after image” effect (where you see a silhouette after looking away from a screen). Their styles are popular with tech entrepreneurs, coders and gamers, and also come as sunglasses.

Follow the “20-20-20 rule”

Make eye-care part of your wellness routine, says Dr Lewis Ehrlich, a health coach, personal trainer and holistic dentist. To minimise his own computer eye strain, he follows the 20-20-20 rule. If you’ve been staring at a screen for 20 minutes, then look at something 20-feet away for 20 seconds. This allows your eyes to rest and naturally refocus. “Posture and eye health are also intimately connected,” he says. “Sitting close to a screen can not only affect your eyes, but leave you susceptible to headaches and muscle ache.” If your eyes feel strained, your desk setup could be to blame. “For computer monitors, there should be approximately a 15-degree down gaze and the screen should be approximately 60-75cm away,” he says, “Smart phones should be approximately 30cm away from you.”

If symptoms persist, always see an optometrist.

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