Healthy Vision in the Digital Age
Computers—and all the digital devices we use on a daily basis, be it smartphones or handheld readers—have become essential tools in our everyday lives. But, as you’ve probably already noticed, your eyes get strained (itchy, red, and dry) if you’re looking at the screen too long, a condition called “digital eyestrain” (it’s the most common computer-related repetitive strain injury, beating out tendonitis). This is triggered by constantly having to focus and position your eyes to process digital text and graphics (something our eyes just aren’t used to).
As we get older, our eyes are already shifting; add digital devices into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for vision problems—unless you put into place these 5 essential tips:
1) Book a visit with your eye doctor. Sure, you can see fine (except for those headaches you get when you stare at a screen too long), but what most people don’t know is ophthalmologists can do more than just prescribe you a new pair of lenses. By looking at the inner workings of the eye, they can detect diseases like diabetes, hypertension, sickle cell anemia, heart disease, and now, even Alzheimer’s1. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health recommends that computer users get an exam once a year—worthwhile, particularly if you’re experiencing eyestrain, which can exacerbate other diseases of the eye like glaucoma. Bottom line: you may need a special pair of glasses just for the computer, or even an Rx for eye drops—to keep your vision sharp for years to come.
2) Take frequent screen breaks. It’s middle-aged people like us (ages 45 to 54) who spend the most time in front of screens—an average of 9.5 hours a day, according to a study by the Council for Research Excellence2. That’s even more reason to take a break. The easiest way: blink when you can, which moistens your eyes to prevent dryness and irritation. (When using a computer, people blink one-third less than they do when not looking at a screen.3) A good rule of thumb: every 20 minutes look away from your screen (set a timer if you need to) and gaze away 20 feet for 20 seconds…and, if you can, blink 10 times slowly. (It’s always good to stand up and stretch, too!)
3) Reduce glare. Bright, overhead lights—and sunlight streaming through the window—can cause screen glare that can strain your eyes. Turn off overhead lights and use floor lamps instead—and shut the blinds while you’re working. You can also buy an anti-glare “screen” to cover digital devices—and you can get anti-reflective (AR) coatings for your glasses that will help reduce eyestrain.
Also, to help prevent eyestrain, be sure to adjust the brightness settings on your computer so your eyes don’t get over fatigued. (A general rule: your screen shouldn’t be so bright that it lights up a darkened room.) And try to sit at least an arm’s length from a computer screen and 16 inches from a handheld device; if you can’t, increase the type size so you don’t have to strain to read it.
4) Eat plenty of brightly colored fruits and veggies. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables like spinach, kale, and cantaloupe have nutrients that can help support the health of the retina. This is the thin tissue layer on the inside, back wall of the eye with millions of light-sensitive cells and other nerve cells that receive and organize visual information—from your environment and your digital devices. Eating a healthy diet, now and as you get older, provides the nutrients you need to keep your eyes healthy as you age. Fruits and vegetables—as well as beans, whole grains, lean meat, and fish—contain key antioxidant nutrients like vitamins A, C, and E, and lutein. To ensure you’re getting enough of what you need, be sure to take a multivitamin every day.
5) Take a break—and get moving. Kids aren’t the only ones at risk of obesity from watching too much screen time; adults are, too. Exercising is important for your heart—and your waistline and overall health, including that of your eyes. In fact, in one study4 published in the journal for Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, researchers found that regular exercise helps reduce pressure in the eyes that can lead to glaucoma. Another study5 found that regular exercise can reduce the risk of eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration.
Bottom line: healthy, happy aging is do-able, even in the digital age, provided you take the steps necessary to prevent illness and injury. (And for some tips on how to stay happy as you age, click here: Six Smart Swaps for Healthy Aging.)
1 “Smell and Eye Tests Show Potential to Detect Alzheimer’s Early,” Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, July 2014; http://www.alz.org/aaic/releases_2014/sun-830am-smell-eye-tests.asp
2 “Ground-Breaking Study of Video Viewing Finds Younger Boomers Consume More Video Media Than Any Other Group,” Council for Research Excellence, March 26, 2009; http://www.researchexcellence.com/news/032609_vcm.php
3 “Alteration of Tear Mucin 5AC in Office Workers Using Visual Display Terminals,” Yuichi Uchino, MD; Miki Uchino, MD; Norihiko Yokoi, MD; et al., JAMA Ophthalmology, June 5, 2014; http://archopht.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1878735
4 “Physical Fitness Could Have a Positive Effect on Eye Health,” The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, October 24, 2011; http://www.arvo.org
5 “Exercise May Slow Progression of Retinal Degeneration,” Science Daily, February 7, 2014; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140207114059.htm