More screen time causing vision problems in pandemic, doctor warns

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Americans are worried about how increased screen time during the pandemic will impact their eyes. According to a report by Eyesafe Nielsen, the average screen time per person rose 60%, to more than 13 hours a day, in March 2020.

Dr. Christopher Starr, an ophthalmologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, told “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King that the more time Americans spend gazing at their screens, the less they are blinking.

“It’s multi-factorial. We call it the computer vision syndrome, and it combines both eye strain from just staring at the computers which are right in front of you for all those hours, that 13 hours or more. But it also, when we are on the computer, when we are staring at and fatiguing our eyes, we are also staring and not blinking as much. The blink rate, which is normally about 16-18 times a minute, decreases by about 50% to maybe eight blinks a minute,” Starr said.

Starr said when a person doesn’t blink as often, the effects are felt in a variety of ways.

“So what happens there is the tears evaporate, and we get these dry spots, and the eyes get drier and drier and redder and more irritated and more gritty as the day goes on, and that leads to fluctuations in vision and blurred vision and of course the eye strain can cause headaches and all this. So the computer vision syndrome is a real problem, especially in the post-COVID-19 era,” he said.

Doctors report they are seeing an uptick of vision issues related to computer use including eye strain, which can lead to headaches, frontal headaches, pain around the eyes and pain behind the eyes, as well as dry eyes and related problems.

A July Alcon/Ipsos poll found that 60% of people are concerned about the impact that increased screen time will have on their eyes. Some people have looked into alternative solutions, like blue light blocking glasses. But Starr told “CBS This Morning” co-host Anthony Mason that those glasses aren’t needed as much as small breaks away from the screen.

“Taking breaks is important, and I think that’s the real key here, not so much glasses or filters over your screens,” he said.

He recommends small breaks away from screens every 20 minutes. During that break, look into the distance at an object at least 20 feet away or further for 20 seconds or more. Eyes should also be shut for 20 seconds during the break.

Blue light, like that emanating from computer screens and smartphones, does stimulate the eyes, something that can cause sleeping problems. Starr said blue light blocking glasses could be useful right before bed.

“Blue light is kind of stimulating, and so we usually recommend blocking blue light at night when you are trying to go to bed. You want melatonin; blue light will block the melatonin. Ideally, no devices in the bedroom at all, but if you are going to have to look at your phone or your computer, you should dim the blue lights.”

Most phones, tablets and computers also have a setting called “night mode” that can shift the screen to a yellower light that is easier on the eyes.

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