We typically think of having to protect your eyes at work if you are doing manual labor or handling chemicals. But in 2019, there is a different concern regarding eye health known as Digital Eye Strain. This has lead the oldest volunteer eye health and safety group, Prevent Blindness, to name March Workplace Eye Wellness Awareness month, bringing more awareness to the issue.
So many of us spend our days at work on the computer. Digital eye strain (also called Computer Vision Syndrome) can occur after using a digital device for two or more hours, leading to temporary eye discomfort such as blurred vision, eye fatigue, dry or irritated eyes, back and neck muscle tension, and sometimes headaches. According to the Vision Counsel approximately 80 percent of American adults use digital devices for two or more hours per day, while nearly 67 percent use two or more devices simultaneously, leading to 59 percent experiencing symptoms of digital eye strain. That’s a lot of people suffering from eye strain!
When looking at a digital screen, people tend to blink less, leading to dry, irritated eyes. Studies show digital eye strain is also caused by the repetitive motion of the muscles in your eyes as they capture and trap what are actually moving pixels on the screen and then translate those pixels to the images we then “see” — it’s an incredibly complicated process. While looking at a screen, our eyes follow the same path over and over, having to focus and refocus all the time. And the eyes are reacting to changing images on the screen, looking up and down from screen to other reading materials, and adjusting to the glare, flicker, contrast, and — the most talked about — blue light. This can create eye muscle strain similar to carpel tunnel syndrome.
Blue light affects not only our eyes, but also melatonin and our sleep cycle (that issue will be saved for another article!). Blue light, also known as high-energy visible (HEV) light, not only comes from digital screens, but also the sun, and is beneficial to our health in the right doses by boosting alertness, elevating moods, and supporting memory and cognitive function. But blue light is also a short-wave length that scatters more easily than other visible light, making it harder for the eyes to focus. As the eyes are working harder to focus, over long stretches of time, vision becomes strained.
So how do we prevent eye strain?
- There are a number of different measures people can take.
- The first is to limit screen time as much as possible, but this can be very hard to accomplish with the reality of the constant presence of screens in our everyday lives, both private and professional. Wearing blue light glasses helps block the blue light, which minimizes strain on the eyes.
- Be mindful of how much you are blinking. Take a break at least once an hour to get up and walk around. This will not only give your eyes a rest, but also vary your position and help with tight muscles.
- Also take a 20-20-20 break. Every 20 minutes stop looking at your screen for 20 seconds and look at something 20 feet away, allowing the eyes to rest and refocus on a different distance.
- During any of these breaks, do some massage and acupressure around the eyes, eyebrows, temples, and upper cheek bones, to increase the circulation, invigorating and softening the muscles that have become strained and fatigued. One particularly good acupressure point is located at the end of your eyebrow closest to the nose, called bamboo gathering. This point is known for clearing dryness, increasing circulation to the eye orbit, and decreasing weak vision.
- Both acupuncture and herbal supplements are also very beneficial in both helping to prevent digital eye strain, and also in treating and reversing symptoms. Acupuncture helps to increase circulation to specific areas and muscles close to the eye, while at the same time supporting the underlying health of each particular patient.
- Herbal supplements support the same treatment principles outside the treatment room. For example, take chrysanthemum flowers and goji berries, 1-2 tablespoons each and steep them in hot water for 5-10 minutes as a simple herbal tea that you can make at home. The chrysanthemum clears the dryness from the eyes while the goji berries increase circulation. Together they are known to benefit eye health. Keep in mind that acupuncture and herbal therapies are not only helpful for issues related to digital eye strain, but all aspects of eye health including poor vision, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and retinitis pigmentosa.
Licensed Acupuncturist and Certified Herbalist