How Screen Time Affects Your Eyes

As technology keeps advancing, it’s becoming a bigger and bigger part of our lives. These days, most families own several different computers and smart devices, and we use them all day long. Everyday activities such as work, entertainment, socializing, and shopping are all happening through a screen. Research shows that most Americans now devote at least 10 hours a day to screen time, and it's only growing.1

Never before in human history have we spent most of our waking hours staring rigidly at a brightly lit screen directly in front of us. This sudden increase in screen time over the past decade has raised concerns about the effects of screen time on our health, and especially our vision.

Digital Eye Strain

The blue light emitted from our phone, computer, and LED TV screens has a short wavelength and high energy. It’s more intense and less focused than other visible wavelengths, creating visual “noise” that can be hard on the eyes.2 Poor room lighting, screen glare, and poor reading posture can make it even harder for our eyes to focus.

When our minds are focused on the screen, we may not even realize how hard our eyes are working. We tend to blink only half as often, and may forget to move or shift our visual focus for long periods of time. All of these factors can lead to digital eye strain, or computer vision syndrome. Nearly 60% of Americans have reported digital eye strain symptoms,3 including eye fatigue or irritation, watery or dry eyes, eye strain headache, and difficulty concentrating.

Digital eye strain is temporary, but there is some concern that too much screen time may cause lasting damage to our eyes. The powerful blue light from our screens passes through the cornea to the retina, increasing the possibility of retinal damage that could prematurely age the eyes. At least one study has shown this effect in rats,4 though the study has yet to be replicated in humans.

Risks of Screen Time for Kids

The risks of too much screen time may be higher for children, whose sensitive eyes are still developing. Kids need exposure to sunlight and the outdoors for healthy eye development, yet they are increasingly spending more time indoors in front of screens. Kids have a harder time with self-discipline when it comes to on-screen entertainment, and may not easily recognize symptoms of eye strain.

This extensive screen time may be harmful for childrens’ visual development. Research shows that kids who stay indoors are more likely to be nearsighted.5 In fact, since 1971, there has been a dramatic increase in nearsightedness around the world. In the US, nearsightedness has nearly doubled to 42%, and in Asia, up to 90% of teens and adults are nearsighted.6

Many experts think there may be a link between screen time and nearsightedness, or myopia, in children. Researchers in Ireland found that the risk of nearsightedness in schoolchildren increased when screen time exceeded three hours per day.7 A similar study in Denmark found that the risk of myopia nearly doubled in teens who used screen devices for more than six hours a day.8

Healthy Screen Time Habits

You can protect your family’s vision by setting smart screen time limits and practicing healthy habits to avoid digital eye strain. Here are some tips for minimizing the effects of screen time on your eyes.

  1. Position your screen to support a healthy viewing posture. This is especially important if you work on a computer all day. Place your monitor directly in front of you at an arm’s length distance. The first line of text on the screen should be at eye level, and you should not have to tilt your head or neck.
  1. Adjust the lighting in the room to reduce eye strain. Make sure there isn’t overhead light glaring off the screen, and that there’s just enough light contrast to read the screen easily. If you find yourself leaning forward or squinting, enlarge the text.
  1. Practice the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This helps your eyes relax and adjust focus to a further distance. There’s even an app that can help remind you to take this eye break.
  1. Stay hydrated. Drinking water regularly can help keep your eyes from drying out. You can also use a room humidifier or eye drops if you find yourself getting dry eyes. Remember to blink regularly.
  1. Wear glasses for computer use. If you normally wear contact lenses, they may increase symptoms of eye irritation. Wearing glasses instead can give your eyes a break. Even if you don’t normally wear glasses, you may want to try computer glasses that reduce screen glare or filter out blue light.

Nutrients for Eye Health

Making sure you get enough eye-friendly nutrients can help protect your long-term vision and reduce the risk of premature eye aging, or macular degeneration. Here are some of the nutrients that have been shown to help protect your eye health.

  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin. These carotenoids found in leafy green vegetables are absolutely crucial for healthy vision, and have been shown to protect the retina against the damaging effects of light-induced oxidative stress.9
  • Vitamin C. This powerful antioxidant found in colorful fruits and veggies has been shown to help slow the progression of macular degeneration when combined with other nutrients.
  • Vitamin E. Found in nuts and sweet potatoes, this antioxidant helps protect the eyes against free radicals, which have been linked with degenerative eye conditions.
  • Zinc. Highly concentrated in the eye, particularly in and around the retina, this essential mineral helps bring Vitamin A from the liver to the retina to produce melanin, a protective pigment.10
  • Copper. This essential mineral also acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect the eye from oxidative stress and encouraging the development of flexible tissue for healthy eye structure.

Two definitive clinical studies on maintaining visual health, known as the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2), looked at the long-term effects of taking nutritional supplements to protect against age-related macular degeneration. The resulting AREDS2 formula, which includes all of the above nutrients, has been shown to effectively slow the progression of AMD.11

The nutrients in the AREDS2 formula are hard to obtain in sufficient amounts from diet alone. However, eating a nutritious diet rich in leafy greens has been shown to reduce your risk of developing AMD. Those who don’t eat enough leafy greens are likely deficient in lutein and zeaxanthin. For these people, supplementing with the AREDS2 formula resulted in a 26% reduction in their risk of developing advanced AMD.11

If you’d like to try the AREDS2 formula for yourself, check out NATURELO’s Eye Health supplement. This supplement features the clinically-proven AREDS2 formula, plus additional important eye health nutrients, such as Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which have been shown to support healthy visual development and retinal function. To match the best results of the AREDS studies, you may also want to combine it with a multivitamin, as two-thirds of the AREDS trial participants did. 

References

1. Pursell, Bart. Americans devout more than 10 hours a day to screen time, and growing | IST 110: Introduction to Information Sciences and Technology. Penn State University.

2. How Blue Light, UV, and Infrared Light Affect Our Eyes. Raleigh Eye Center.

3. Eye Health in the Digital Age: Does Too Much Screen Time Hurt Your Vision? UAB Medicine News

4. Ducharme, Jamie. Digital Screens May Cause Long-Term Eye Damage, Study Says. Boston Magazine. Jan 24, 2017

5. Turbert, David. More Time Outdoors May Reduce Kids' Risk of Nearsightedness. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Aug 28, 2014.

6. Is too much screen time harming children's vision? American Academy of Ophthalmology. Aug 6, 2018.

7. Harrington SC, Stack J, O'Dwyer V. Risk factors associated with myopia in schoolchildren in Ireland. British Journal of Ophthalmology 2019;103:1803-1809.

8. Hansen, M.H., Laigaard, P.P., Olsen, E.M., Skovgaard, A.M., Larsen, M., Kessel, L. and Munch, I.C. Low physical activity and higher use of screen devices are associated with myopia at the age of 16‐17 years in the CCC2000 Eye Study. Acta Ophthalmol, 98: 315-321.

9. Yu, M.; Yan, W.; Beight, C. Lutein and Zeaxanthin Isomers Protect against Light-Induced Retinopathy via Decreasing Oxidative and Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress in BALB/cJ Mice. Nutrients 2018, 10, 842.

10. Diet & Nutrition. American Optometric Association.

11. AREDS/AREDS2 Frequently Asked Questions. National Eye Institute.