Ask Dr. Monti: Are Digital Devices Ruining Our Eyesight?

Answer from Daniel A. Monti, director of the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital

Dr. Monti

Question: Are computers, iPhones and iPads ruining our eyesight? I’ve heard they can cause Computer Vision Syndrome. Is that true?

Answer: From carpal tunnel syndrome to asbestos exposure, working conditions often present risks to personal health. In the contemporary digital age, our professional lives are mediated by computers and smartphones. In addition to increasing exposure at work, many of us log “screen time” at home on personal computers, television and ongoing text messaging. Though technology has certainly made us more efficient, it may also affect our eyesight. Reading text on a computer screen is different than reading text on a page. Computer text is not as sharp, the level of contrast between the background is reduced, and glare and reflection on the screen may make viewing difficult.

Prolonged exposure to computer and smartphone screens can lead to a type of eye strain known as Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS. This can result in several symptoms, including eye discomfort, headache and blurry vision that can continue even after looking away from the screen. [How long the blurry vision can last is still up for debate. Some experts say only a few seconds, others say there’s a chance it could be a lot longer.] To compensate for these symptoms, sufferers of CVS often modify their physical positions, which may trigger neck pain and backaches.

Eye specialists can usually minimize the severity of reported CVS symptoms. In many cases, clinicians will discover an underlying vision problem that is exacerbating the effects of prolonged screen time. This includes adjustments to the prescription strength of glasses or contacts, or correcting an undiagnosed problem, such as astigmatism or dry eye syndrome. Upon identifying and correcting all underlying vision problems, CVS symptoms typically subside.

If you are experiencing CVS and have no underlying vision problems, it’s important to modify your surroundings. Improving the light in your office, adjusting the resolution on your computer screen, or taking regular breaks to rest your eyes can help minimize CVS symptoms. I advise taking frequent breaks throughout the day to focus the eyes on something else. Get up to make a photocopy, return a call, or simply look out the window or across the room at a piece of art. Also, try to reduce glare from computer screens by buying a screen filter and reducing the amount of light that hits the screen by dimming overhead lights or adjusting the placement of the screen so that outside light doesn’t add to glare and cause your eyes to strain even more in order to read.

The long-term effects of prolonged screen exposure are not yet clear, but technology is likely here to stay. The most prudent approach is to get regular eye exams, modify your environment as best you can and learn to put that smartphone down for at least a few hours every night.

E-mail Dr. Monti your question here, and he could answer it an upcoming blog post! Dr. Monti is Director of the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and the author of “The Great Life Makeover”. Read more about him here.

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