It is without doubt, that over the last 10 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of time we spend looking at electronic devices. Computers, in all their forms seem, to be the “go to” for much of our communication, research & learning, leisure activity, and not to mention our work places. A study done by Ipsos Reid for Google found that Canadians spend up to 7.9 hours per day in front of computer devices. This means that Canadians spend more time looking at computer screens than any other country in the world. This has led to an increase in a condition referred to as “Computer Vision Syndrome” or CVS. It is estimated to affect 70-90% of Canadians.
The American Optometric Association describes CVS as a group of vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use.
The level of discomfort increases with more time spent on electronic devices, and tends to be worse with smaller hand-held devices (i.e. cellphones). To understand why looking at computer screens can lead to CVS, it is important to know why we blink and why we produce tears. The tear film is critical in feeding oxygen to the surface corneal tissue. We normally blink approximately 22 times per minute. This action of blinking creates the exact amount of force needed to push on the small meibomian glands embedded in the eyelid margins. This causes an oily tear to build up in small layer on the bottom lid (tear meniscus). When the top lid comes down (blink), it grabs these oily tears and spreads it evenly over the entire surface of the eye. These very important oily tears then absorb oxygen from air and become hyper-oxygenated which in turn allow oxygen to absorb directly into the surface cells of the eye.
A study done by Dr. Tsubota in the New England Journal of Medicine reports an average of 22 blinks per minute will decrease to an average of only 7 blinks per minute, when using an electronic device. The blinks may be less than 7 when using smaller devices such as cell phones. This indicates that we “stare” when using electronic devices and leads to less blinking, creating far less tear production and decreased oxygen for the surface tissue. This compounds and starves the cornea of oxygen.The U.S. “DEWS” study concluded that the major component to CVS is dry eye caused by prolonged exposure to computer screens. As technology progresses we are likely to see an increase in the use of electronic screens and therefore a rise in eye-
One very effective treatment that has proven to relieve symptoms of CVS is the “Tranquileyes Goggle” manufactured by Eyeco. This patented technology has been successful because of its consistent moist heat on the eye and surrounding area. When using a moist heat compress it is important to use a product that is approved and safe to use repeatedly.
By using a daily moist heat compress, it prevents the blockage of the meibomian glands and help stimulate the glands to produce more of the essential oily tears. It’s important these glands are kept healthy—overtime, if the glands become blocked, they may atrophy or stop functioning all together.
2. As mentioned earlier, daily moist heat compressing alone is not enough to manage Computer Vision Syndrome. Hours spent staring at a computer screen adds to the discomfort and symptoms of CVS. Preventive treatment measures can and should be taken. At least two hours or more of prolonged use on a computer, requires applying a NON-PRESERVED lubricating eye drop such as “Hylo” 3 to 4 times daily, or when eyes are feeling dry.
These drops, which are manufactured in Germany, contain hyaluronic acid (which is naturally found in the aqueous and vitreous humour of the eye). Hylo drops are safe to use long term because they are non-preserved, phosphate free and will help absorb oxygen and feed that oxygen to the surface cells of the eyes. The result is comfort and relief. The patented bottle technology is designed with a one way valve, allowing a pump action to dispense lubricating drops into the eye. Unlike all other eye drops that incorporate a screw cap and allowing bacteria to get in, Hylo drops do not need to be preserved with Benzalkonium Chloride (BAK).
3. Maintaining healthy vision and eye health annually should be included in your appointment calendar. Visit your Optometrist regularly to correct any refractive error—even very small corrections can lead to chronic eye fatigue and strain during the day. It is strongly recommended you have good quality lenses with proper coatings. The latest generation of lens coating like Nikon’s SeeCoat Blue will help to selectively block the harmful blue wavelength light that is emittedfrom electronic devices.
4. Commit to periodically looking away from the computer screen. Every 20 minutes take a break from looking at the screen, blink your eyes 20 times and focus on an object at least 20 feet away. This is called the 20-20-20 rule. The muscles of the eyelids have memory—if you stare at a computer screen and have a reduced blink rate the muscles will eventually learn this posture and even when you are away from a computer screen you may not blink sufficiently.
5. As modern technologies evolve and we learn to incorporate electronics into our lifestyles, we can also learn to take the opportunity of acquiring the modern technologies that will benefit our eye health and overall quality of life.