Dr. Sunni Scott is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology with the University of Maryland who specializes in primary eye care. She also instructs and mentors optometry students via the university’s externship program. Dr. Scott has given lectures and presentation at the American Academy of Optometry.
Dr. Scott, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about how to keep eyes healthy. We literally do everything on our phones and computers – from social to shopping, business and banking.
Q: Why are iPhones and computers so damaging to eyes?
A: Many studies have noted that increased use of digital devices is associated with increased symptoms of digital eye strain. Digital eye strain can cause ocular discomfort and/or visual disturbance. And too much blue light, from either the sunlight (the major source of blue light) and/or digital devices, at whatever time, over time, can exacerbate cataract formation, age related macular degeneration, eyestrain and interrupt sleep cycles.
Q: What are the symptoms we would have if our eyes are feeling the effects of daily digital use?
A: There are both ocular and non-ocular symptoms. These include: tearing/sore eyes, blurred vision, general fatigue, burning sensation, redness, double vision, neck/shoulder/backpain, glare, and headaches.
Q: Can you recommend things we can do right away to protect our eyes from blue light and digital eye strain?
A: Recommendations include using appropriate lighting, careful positioning of the digital device, adjusting resolution/text size/contrast/luminance and taking breaks. The 20/20/20 strategy is recommended. This means that after 20 minutes of viewing the digital device, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Other recommendations include getting the most up to date spectacle prescription from your eyecare provider, getting computer only glasses, using lubricating drops, ingesting dietary supplements of either omega-3 fatty acids or blueberry extract, using an anti-reflection film over a screen on a digital device, blue light filtering spectacle lenses and maintaining normal blinking.
Q: Is there a difference between reading on the phone in the sunlight, office light or in the dark at night?
A: Reading in the dark cannot cause permanent damage; however, it can lead to headaches and eye strain/visual discomfort. Some helpful hints when reading include:
- Make sure that the lighting of the area you’re reading in is as bright or brighter than your digital device.
- Light should be positioned to shine directly onto the page and not over your shoulder to avoid glare
And remember that too much blue light from digital devices at night may lead to poor sleep quality, difficulty falling asleep and daytime fatigue. Too much blue light, from either the sunlight (the major source of blue light) and/or digital devices, at whatever time, over time, can exacerbate cataract formation, age related macular degeneration, eyestrain and interrupt sleep cycles.
Q: Are either contact lenses or glasses healthier when you are using devices?
A: Studies have shown that contact lens wearers are more likely to experience digital eye strain than non-lens wearers, likely due to the fact that the contact lenses can increase symptoms of dryness.
Q: Can you also recommend any lifestyle changes we can make to promote healthier eyes when we are not on our phones?
A: Please see below.
- A healthy diet consisting of lutein and zeaxanthin (ie green veggies (kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, broccoli), yellow, orange and red veggies (squash, pumpkin, corn, tomatoes, carrots) and fruits like kiwi and grapes).
- Go to your eye doctor for routine exams, including a dilated fundus exam
- Be sure to wear UV-blocking sunglasses with polarization and a wide-brimmed hat when enjoying outdoors
With Thanks to Dr. Scott,
Photos by Marek Levák, Vista Wei, Scott Van Daalen
Bio: Michelle is a former beauty executive and contributing writer who loves being part of the Care Skincare Team. She’s married with two small children who have more energy than all the drinks on a Starbucks menu.