Between double-tapping your way through Instagram, swiping right and left on dating apps, and, oh, right, work, there’s no denying most of us spend a heck of a lot of time staring at screens. In fact, nearly one in three U.S. adults says they use screens more than 10 hours each day, according to a new Screen Responsibly survey from pharmaceutical company Shire and media and technology company Thrive Global.
As much as we like the idea of a digital detox, it’s not always practical to suggest putting the phone away and turning the screens off. But eye doctors are seeing more eye health symptoms in younger patients, which they think are directly related to all that screen time.
“We know when we’re using screens, our blink rate can reduce by up to 50%,” says Preeya Gupta, MD, an ophthalmologist at Duke Health partnering with Eyelove. That might not sound like a big deal, but blinking spreads a film of tears over your eyeball that protects it from eye strain and fatigue. Blink less, and you’re more likely to experience symptoms of dry eye like irritation, burning, and a scratchy feeling, she says.
“I’m seeing dry eye disease or computer vision strain much more regularly even than I did just five years ago,” Dr. Gupta continues. Eye doctors included in the Screen Responsibly survey agreed: 75% said they’re diagnosing more patients with dry eye compared to five years prior, and 88% of those believe it’s because of smartphone use. Almost 70% of the docs said they’re concerned about what screens are doing to their patients’ eyes.
Dr. Gupta says she totally gets our screen-obsessed world. She checks her email on her phone, she orders groceries on her phone—screens are not going anywhere. “Our lives are so intertwined with our devices, so anything we can do to use screens more responsibly is a step in the right direction.”
So how do you have your fun (and do your job) without compromising your vision? Here are three expert-approved tricks to try.
Follow the 20-20-20 rule
One of the easiest ways to be a little smarter about your screen use is to follow the 20-20-20 rule, says Rachel Bishop, MD, MPH, of the National Eye Institute. “Break what you’re doing every 20 minutes to look 20 feet in the distance for about 20 seconds,” she explains. Not only will you clear your head a bit, your eyes will slightly lose focus, giving your eye muscles a break. “It’s a muscle like others in the body,” she says. “If you’re constantly having your vision focused at ‘near’ objects, you’re demanding a lot of it.”
Another smart eye-protecting tip is to simply think about blinking. Yes, it sounds a little silly at first; blinking is one of those things we’re not supposed to have to think about. “But when you actually think about blinking, you make a more complete blink,” Dr. Gupta says. “I like for patients to remember to have the upper eyelid touch the lower eyelid. It actually feels different if you really do it.” You’ll notice your dry, strained eyes will instantly feel more lubricated, she says.
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Dim the brightness
Lastly, you can adjust the lighting on your screens to be at least a little gentler on your peepers. Turn down the background brightness on your phone, tablet, TV, and computer, and turn on light wherever you are instead. “It can reduce eye strain as opposed to having the computer be the sole source of [light],” Dr. Gupta says.
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