Sarah Kwon Lee, O.D.
Since the pandemic, our lives have never been the same. A majority of us had to stay home in the years of 2020 and 2021. As a result of that, most people including school-aged children started working or studying from home, relying on digital media such as computers, tablets, and phones. As an eye doctor, one of the most frequent comments or questions I have received during my clinic is “my kid is complaining of headaches and eye strain, since the pandemic.” “Are blue blockers effective for eye strain?”
And the short answer is “NO”. Blue blockers gained significant popularity over the last few years due to the advertisement of reducing digital eye strain. Dr. Rosenfield, a professor at SUNY Optometry school recently conducted a study with commercially available blue blockers that typically only block around 20 to 25% of the blue as a double-blind study (where the subjects did not know what lenses they were using). And the blue blockers did not significantly relieve any digital eye strain. While blue blockers can help improve circadian rhythms, thereby helping patients have a better quality of sleep, they had very little impact on relieving symptoms of eye fatigue or strain.
Digital eye strain is actually thought to be caused not by the amount of time we spend on the screens but the way we utilize them such as improper lighting, closer viewing distances, bad posture, screen glare or “uncorrected refractive error or other eye muscle issues or conditions”.
I propose that when you do experience such symptoms while on the screens, try to have frequent breaks – every 20 minutes, you take a break for a few minutes to look at least 20 feet away to the distance. Also, frequent blinking, having a better posture with the back and neck straight, and having better lighting can help reduce eye strain significantly as well. Lastly, I urge you to come in for an eye appointment to make sure your eyes do not have any significant refractive errors or eye muscle alignment issues.
In summary- in order to alleviate digital eye strain
1. The 20,20,20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet for at least 20 seconds.
2. Frequent blinking or use of OTC artificial tears
3. Increase the viewing distance with a phone or a tablet (more than 16 inches away).
4. Low-level and glare-free ambient lighting while working on the computer
5. Come in for an eye exam to make sure your eyes actually don’t need any prescriptions!
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