Less Eye Strain Please

By now, most of the world’s population is aware of how pervasive digital devices are in how we work and entertain ourselves. In this week’s blog, I want to take this knowledge a few steps further to paint a picture of how we might all achieve visual comfort despite the challenges.

Courtesy of KOMUnews on Flickr

Courtesy of KOMUnews on Flickr

Shire, a pharmaceutical company that recently had their dry eye drug Xiidra approved, found that “nearly 9 out of 10 eye care professionals believe the multi-screen lifestyle is responsible for a rise in dry eye disease.” A study that I did with my colleagues surveyed 291 individuals with an average age of 48 and found that 220 used computers at their primary work station. Of these, 7.8 percent of them had three or more monitors.

When my dad worked at Qualcomm, he would walk around his office building and notice the vast majority of his engineers tilting their head back, straining their necks, and trying to get by on their two computer monitors in a traditional progressive addition lens (PAL). These lenses only have a teeny tiny window of clear vision for the computer screen distance. It’s like trying to look through a keyhole all day long. Thankfully, I had eliminated these behaviors and downstream ergonomically induced symptoms for my dad with a simple computer lens that opened up his field of view in a more natural posture and now he’s an advocate for them.

In clinic this past Saturday, a 29-year-old post-LASIK patient reported that her eye muscles felt stretched when looking up slightly. Her job is a Time Warner dispatcher. At first, she joked that she looks up often because she is vertically challenged but we were then able to educate her on raising her desk chair and lowering her two computer monitors so she is looking at them in slight downgaze rather than straight ahead. This keeps the eyelids more rested and minimizes tear evaporation. In fact, looking up is not natural at all for our six eye muscles which have varying degrees of strength. This is partly why Google glass fell by the wayside as all the online information displayed was viewed at slight up gaze, creating symptoms of discomfort.

Snapchat has grown leaps and bounds this past year and they were able to show that vertical advertisements are viewed to the end nine times more frequently than horizontal ones. Apple has heard the concerns of disruption to sleep cycle with blue light and responded with “night shift” meaning that the operating system automatically goes warmer and less blue colors after a certain evening hour. These are just two examples of how the tech industry and optometry will inevitably meet in every day eye exams.

So when we think of digital devices and dry eyes, we might first ask the question, “Do my eyes feel tired?” If so, there may likely be a dry eye component without necessarily any feelings of dryness, burning, and grittiness. Your eye care provider can then evaluate for dry eyes and also assess the ways your eye muscles work together. To complete the picture, there should also be dialogue on how many computer monitors we use and how many meetings we have in a given week.

~Justin Kwan, OD
California Optometric Association

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