Written by Daniel Smith, O.D.
Board Certified Optometric Physician
Perhaps gone are the days where children receive BB guns for Christmas as in the classic “A Christmas Story”. No longer will we warn our children that they’ll “shoot their eye out”, but we must still consider the health and safety of our eyes over the holiday season. Instead of unwrapping BB guns on Christmas morning, children will be excitedly opening iPhones, video game consoles, televisions, and computers. We live in the age of technology, and Americans of all ages are spending far more time in front of screens than ever before. We should consider the potential impact these digital devices have on the health of our eyes.
Because this is a relatively new phenomenon, limited research has been conducted on the effects of digital devices on vision. The National Eye Institute reports a steady increase in cases of myopia, or nearsightedness, in children. Although this is partly the result of genetics, research has shown that environmental factors play a significant role. These include an increase in time spent with close up activities and digital gadgets, and a decrease in outdoor activities and exposure to natural light. Today technology is always at our fingertips, but we should encourage a balance of activities to promote healthy development of our children’s eyes.
The American Optometric Association now describes a unique condition called “Computer Vision Syndrome” or more generally “Digital Eye Strain”. The condition is a group of eye and vision related problems that commonly arise from prolonged use of computers, cell phones, or other digital devices. Individuals of all ages are susceptible, especially those who use multiple devices over four hours daily. The most common symptoms include headaches, tension in the eyes and brow area, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck pain. To help alleviate these symptoms, follow the 20-20-20 rule: when using a digital device, take a 20 second break every 20 minutes to look at something at least 20 feet away. This allows the eyes to relax and helps avoid overtaxing the focusing system. Those who work on a computer all day may also benefit from specific spectacle lenses or lens coatings designed to meet these visual demands.
3D technology has evolved significantly over the last several years and is rapidly becoming a staple of the entertainment industry. The classic red and blue cardboard glasses have been replaced by 3D enabled TV’s, Nintendo 3DS handheld systems, and even fully immersive virtual reality headsets. Fortunately, it does not appear that these pose any additional risk. While some users may experience discomfort, this is actually a sign of an underlying problem of the binocular visual system, not a problem caused by the 3D device itself. A comprehensive vision and eye health assessment is advisable for those who experience difficulty, discomfort, or nausea. Lastly, we recommend following the manufacturer’s guidelines for young children using any 3D enabled device.
All of us at Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida wish you a wonderful holiday season and new year. We truly look forward to serving you and taking care of your special eyes in 2017! Also, a friendly reminder—don’t forget to use your vision insurance benefits before they expire!