A few years ago, I caught a bad cold that laid me out for several days. The ailment was so severe that it affected my vision, with anything held closer than arm’s length becoming blurry.
I wrote it off as a consequence of being ill.
As I recovered, my sight improved, but I continued to struggle with farsightedness. Worried that I had contracted a degenerative disease that was taking my eyesight, I visited an eye doctor for a checkup. After a series of tests, the doctor indicated that my failing eyesight was simply the result of my age (40) and likely accelerated by prolonged exposure to electronic devices.
Of course, I was aware of eye strain resulting from spending hours in front of a computer screen, but for years I took great measures to protect my eyes with consistent breaks and exercise.
Clearly, there was more working against me.
One company that understands the affects of prolonged exposure to digital devices is Gauss Eyewear. According to the company's co-founder, Jay Uhdinger, while we do a good job protecting our eyes from harmful outside UV/A and UV/B radiation with sunglasses, many of us fail to protect ourselves from the harmful blue light radiation, or high energy visible light, emitted from digital devices, which can cause eye strain and damage to the retinal pigment cells in the back of the eye.
Research has shown that this prolonged exposure can have the effect of making your eyes age faster.
Blue light also affects our natural circadian rhythms, which are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle in response to light and darkness in our daily environment. When our circadian rhythms are interrupted, our sleep patterns are altered and sleep quality is diminished, which can suppress the release of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
Preliminary evidence has pointed to the fact that these lower melatonin levels can have an association with breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, according to a Harvard study.
There is a way to protect your eyes and your health without quitting your digital devices (many would rather go blind anyway). If you use a computer or smart device regularly, then consider these simple tips to protect your eyes and make your day a little better overall.
1. Exercise your eyes.
Your mom probably told you that if you crossed your eyes, they would stay that way forever. While your eyes will not stick if you hold them in this position for a short time, they can become atrophied if you never move or flex them, making it difficult to focus on anything closer or farther than your screen.
To avoid this, take a break from your screen at least every 20 minutes and do eye exercises. Simply moving your eyes around, looking at something distant and close, closing and messaging your eyes, and repeating this five to 10 times can give your eyes the exercise they need.
2. Take your eyes on a walk.
Getting outside and exposing yourself to daylight will help synchronize your natural circadian rhythms, which will boost your ability to sleep at night and improve your mood and alertness when the sun is up. More important, it will reconnect you with nature and offer you a chance to tap into your creativity.
3. Adjust your eyes and your settings.
Take a little time to explore settings on your digital devices. Use a larger font size, increase your screen contrast and reduce brightness until you find a comfortable balance that is easy on you and your eyes. Keep your device screen clean and invest in a glare screen, and alter the distance from your face to force your eyes to focus from different distances.
4. Invest in your eyes.
Many years ago, I was trying on expensive sunglasses at a department store. I had always been in the camp of people who bought cheap sunglasses fully expecting to lose them, so I had no intention of buying anything. After a short chat, the friendly sales associate put expensive sunglasses in perspective for me saying, "It is amazing that people will drop a few hundred dollars on a weekend with friends, but they won’t make that same invest one time to protect the most valuable asset they have -- your eyes."
I walked out with my first pair of Maui Jim sunglasses, and I have never turned back.
A great pair of sunglasses is well worth the investment, but you also need to protect your eyes from the blue light of digital devices. Gauss Eyewear is one company that has created a high quality and relatively affordable pair of "blue-blocking" glasses meant specifically for individuals who spend a great deal of time in front of screens. The company launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund their innovative new eyewear, which surpassed its funding goal in just a few short days.
We have been watching televisions and using computers for years now, but the constant use of digital devices is a rather recent phenomenon. Laptops only surpassed desktops in sales in 2009, and smartphones and modern tablets were only introduced in 2007 and 2011 respectively. All of this means that we may have yet to see the potentially harmful long-term effects of this prolonged digital device use on our eyes and wellness.
And while my wife thinks I look more intellectual in my reading glasses, I still worry about the effect these digital devices are having on all of us and specifically on our children, the "digital natives." Life is beautiful, and it is clear that if we don't look up from our devices to take part in it, we may lose our ability to enjoy the sights altogether.