Why increased screen time can increase your chances for serious vision ailments

The potential mental health impacts of moving to a work-from-home reality already have been well-documented. Here’s a physical ailment also worthy of attention: Too much screen time can be harmful to your eyes.

Scott Edmonds of UnitedHealthcare.

Scott Edmonds, the chief eye care officer of UnitedHealthcare, said increased screen time — and the blue light that is emitted from our phones, tablets and laptops — is a cause for concern.

“Too much exposure from this high-energy light in our screens results in dryness or irritation, and eventually exacerbates one’s risk for cataracts,” he said.

It also can impact our sleep schedule, Edmonds said.

With those concerns in mind, Edmonds offered a few recommendations to protect your eyes with increased screen time:

The 20-20-20 rule: When you’re on a computer, every 20 minutes, you should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds, Edmonds said.

“That gives your eyes a chance to unfocus and a chance to look straight ahead,” he said. “Just a 20-second break every 20 minutes would make screen time a lot more comfortable.”

Blue light glasses: Glasses that block blue light are available, whether you have a prescription or not. Edmonds said an exam might help, too.

“There’s a difference between the two eyes when you stare at a screen for hours that can throw off one’s focusing mechanism,” he said. “Anti-glare, anti-blue light glasses with an eye exam help to correct that.”

Edmonds said nonprescription blue light glasses are sometimes all one may need.

Eye drops and blinking: Edmonds recommends keeping the eyes moist.

“When you concentrate on a screen or in a Zoom meeting, you tend not to blink as much,” he said. “People need to remember to keep blinking or use some artificial tear drops. Like the mouth, the eye needs to be wetted to be healthy. Dry eyes result in irritation and inflammation.”

Edmonds said these precautions are important not just during COVID-19, but long-term in our increasingly connected world.

“A millennial who was going to get cataracts at 80 could get them at 70 with today’s increased blue light exposure and resulting damage,” he said.

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