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Digital Eye Strain Forces Employees to Seek Vision Care

Michael Schell

Digital Eye Strain is a problem that will continue to grow as technology becomes more integrated into the workplace.

After two hours at a computer, smartphone, tablet, e-reader or video game, an individual’s eyes feel sore. After four to six hours working on a computer as part of a regular job function, an employee’s eyes may sting and require a break—but that may not always be possible. Digital eye strain comes from using devices like a computer or tablet, devices that make our jobs extremely productive and efficient. Digital eye strain is the physical discomfort that is typically felt after two or more hours in front of a digital screen. On average, a person blinks about 18 times a minute,  based upon findings from The Vision Council, an optical  trade organization in Alexandria, Virginia, the global voice for vision care products and services. Spending significant amounts of time staring at a digital screen causes blink rates to be reduced, therefore resulting in dry, itchy or burning eyes. The juggernaut in this scenario is that technology is here to stay. The answer? Caring for precious eye health and researching the benefits of having a comprehensive vision plan as part of a health care benefit portfolio.

Steps to Reduce Digital Eye Strain

Avoiding eye strain is crucial to keeping your eyes healthy. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the strain on your eyes from looking at a screen all day. These simple fixes will go a long way to easing the pain and will help with the associated problems of eye strain such as headaches and shoulder back and neck pain from leaning forward to get a closer look at your screen.

To begin making your work environment “eye friendly,” you need to begin with lighting. The lighting of your office plays an important role in how much work your eyes need to do. Keeping the ambient lighting at a comfortable level – most office lights are too bright — makes it easier for the eyes. It is also important to keep computer monitors at a 90-degree angle to nearby windows. Do not leave your computer in front of or behind a window, because this will create glare on the screen, making your eyes work harder. Reducing glare is crucial to preventing digital eye strain and there are several methods available. The simplest is to clean your computer screen regularly to prevent dirt and dust from making the screen difficult to see in the light. You can also  purchase an anti-glare screen protector for a computer screen or smartphone for as low as $11.99 on Amazon. For people who work extended periods looking at a screen, over eight hours a day, you can purchase computer glasses that reduce glare for $16.50 on Amazon. The anti-reflective coating for prescription lenses will also work.

The next step to helping your eyes is the reduction of blue light. Blue light is the light from the 380 – 500 nm band of the spectrum. It is specifically the light from the 415 – 455 nm range that causes permanent damage to the retina, however. Modern electronic devices and lighting such as LEDs produce this band of light. Computer glasses do a great job of reducing blue light you experience during computer use. There is also a free computer program, f.lux, which gradually adapts the color of your display to be the most appropriate for the time of day.

With the problems from light out of the way, it is time to upgrade your equipment. If you are using an old cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors, the old bulky ones, and experiencing eye strain than it is time to replace it. Old CRT monitors produce a “flicker” on the screen as part of the refresh rate.  While these flickers are imperceptible, they can still cause eye fatigue. New LCD screens do not flicker and as a bonus, many come with an anti-reflective coating. If upgrading your monitor is impossible, then you should change the settings of your monitor to a refresh rate of 75 Hz to reduce the effects of the flicker.

A monitor can only fix so much of the problem. It is essential to ensure that your office space is set up correctly. A computer monitor should be ideally 20 – 28 inches from your eyes. A useful guide for this is to extend your arm out to the monitor and place the palm of your hand on the screen. This is the ideal distance to be from the screen. The monitor should also be directly in front of your eyes, slightly below eye level, and not tilted.

Now that your new computer is in the right location and away from light, it is time to adjust the settings. By correcting the brightness and contract settings, you can take a lot of stress off your eyes. If a white background on your computer can serve as a light source, than your screen is too bright. You can also adjust the text size on your computer to make it easier for you to read. A handy guideline is to take a dollar bill and hold up to the screen; the text on the screen should be the same size as the serial number of the bill.

With your new set-up in place, you may be thinking that you will never experience eye strain again, but this is not the case. Despite having the best ergonomic set-up for your eyes (eye-gronomic?), it is still essential to take regular breaks. Optometrists typically recommend the “20/20/20” rule, where every 20 minutes you take a break by looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. While working, it is also important to remember to blink. While focusing on a screen, people commonly blink less, which can lead to dry eyes.

Lastly, it is important to receive a regular eye exam. You may have difficulty seeing and not even know it. This is causing your eyes to work extra, ultimately leading to greater strain. What to Look for in a Comprehensive Eye Exam. An eye care specialist will assist you in the external examination. He or she will perform specific tests for visual acuity, pupil function, extraocular muscle motility, visual fields and intraocular pressure and ophthalmoscopy through a dilated pupil. The specialist can also assist you in mitigating the experience of digital eye strain by prescribing computer eye wear specifically designed for those individuals who spend a significant amount of time in front of a digital screen.

These examinations and tests also help the eye care professional identify early markers or indicators of several disease states. When these states are suspected, the eye care professional refers the patient to their primary care provider for further testing and medical treatments when necessary. Of all of the human senses, vision is typically regarded as the one that has the most ‘value’ to quality of life and is labeled as the “Precious Gift of Sight”. Loss of sight would have a devastating effect on every individual and impacts each person for his or her lifetime. Most people that visit an eye care specialist do so when their vision is blurry, or their eyes are reddened, or they seem to be having difficulty reading
that small print.

Blindness: No Warning Signs in Sight

Most eye diseases that can cause blindness have few or no warning signs prior to vision loss or severe impairment. In the United States, the leading cause of blindness is eye disease
related to diabetes. Diabetic eye disease in its early stage, can have no symptoms. The second most common cause of blindness is glaucoma. Loss of vision from glaucoma can go undetected and the disease can advance to vision loss that cannot be reversed. A less publicized optical system disease is eye cancer. The most common type of eye cancer that affects adults and children is ocular melanoma. Early signs of ocular melanoma are most often discovered during a routine eye examination.

The most common cause of blindness among Americans over 50 is age related macular degeneration. Early detection from a comprehensive eye examination and prompt intervention can lessen the progression and improve outcomes. Worldwide, cataracts are the most common cause of blindness. This condition can be reversed if detected early and early intervention is accomplished. Regular eye examinations provide opportunities for early detection of these optical diseases for early intervention and indicated medical treatments.

A comprehensive eye examination can detect ocular manifestations of systemic diseases. An ocular manifestation is an eye condition that directly or indirectly results from a disease from another part of the body. There are many diseases known to cause ocular or visual changes that can be detected from a comprehensive eye examination. Diabetes is a disease that has a direct correlation to ocular manifestations. Other diseases such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and certain forms of cancer, tumors and AIDS can cause ocular and visual changes. These are the more commonly discussed disease states related to visual changes that can be detected from an eye examination.

Additionally there are also numerous systemic diseases that can cause ocular manifestations that can be detected by an eye care professional during a comprehensive eye examination. Some of these conditions can be those that affect virtually everyone at some time in their lives. These conditions are typically treated by prescription and over the counter medications. The condition itself can cause visual changes and the medications taken to treat these diseases and their symptoms can also cause ocular changes.

Where the Vision Plan Steps In

The reality is that everyone needs to have regular eye examinations as a key part of an overall wellness program. And, the true value of a vision care plan is found within the comprehensive eye examination. Health care reform has definitely changed the group and individual plans landscape, opening up a change in how the specialty-ancillary product lines have not only gained in popularity, but they have also become more of an integral and strategic part of an employee benefits program. A comprehensive eye exam is part of the benefits that are now called “Essential Health Benefits.”

Taking care of the eyes helps our eyes take care of us. The focus extends beyond eye wear materials, free form lenses, lens options, really ‘cool’ spectacle frames or new contact lenses. Ophthalmologists, Optometrists, and Opticians are performing heroic ‘work’ in helping to trigger early intervention in the care of patients with not only eye diseases but also full body pathologies.

Having employees partake in regular eye examinations means they can care for their eye health. Approximately 50 percent of the entire population currently requires corrective eye wear, as do 80 percent of the population of those over the age of 45. A vision plan helps to assure the general health with convenient access to services, generally through a network of credentialed providers. Employer based vision plans have been in existence for decades and over the last several years the popularity of individual vision care plans has greatly increased. Health care reform, state exchanges, and with the requirements of essential health benefits, vision care plans are being accepted as an integral part of an overall wellness benefit program.

Technology in the optical industry has brought forward new plan options that include spectacle lens enhancements, numerous contact lens selections, custom tints, and significant improvements of life style choices in optical materials for the plan participants. The eye wear materials available to the consumer today are gaining huge popularity to include becoming a continual part of the individual’s fashion statement in terms of colors, styles, and practicalities. There is no doubt that the eye wear materials industry will continue to grow in its multi-billion dollar business.

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