Eye Health in the Technology Age
Technology is a part of everyday life. We wake up to our digital alarm, drive to work, stare at computer screens, and watch movies to relax. We text, call, email, read, watch, and post throughout the day. We stay connected to the far-reaches of the world just by pressing a few buttons.
Pervasive technology does raise concerns, however. Computer vision syndrome (CVS) occurs when we stare at computer screens for long periods and develop vision problems. Common symptoms include eye fatigue, blurry vision, dry eyes, headaches, and migraines. Because this is such a serious and common issue, let’s look at ways to prevent CVS from affecting you.
Prevent Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)
First, follow the Mayo Clinic’s 20-20-20 Rule. For every 20 minutes looking at a computer or phone screen, look at an object that’s 20 feet away for 20 seconds (or close your eyes for 20 seconds). Giving your eyes consistent breaks and focusing on far-away objects will exercise your eye muscles and encourage blinking.
Blinking rejuvenates your eyes by producing tears. Dry eyes can be irritating and even damaging to your long-term eye health. Another method to increase blinking is to place your computer below eye-level. That way, eyelids consistently cover more of your eyes’ surface, and most people will blink more often in that position. If your dry eyes persist, consider using artificial tears.
The last step is lighting. During the day, a computer screen doesn’t seem particularly bright. However, without other lights to offset its brightness at night, a computer screen can significantly and quickly strain your eyes if you look at it too long. Maintain ambient light while you work.
Technology and Improving Eye Health
Because CVS is so common, we tend to hear only the negative side of technology’s health effects. However, people are beginning to see how everyday technology can improve our eye health.
Google Glass is one of the most compelling technologies for the blind and visually impaired. These space-age glasses function as wearable technology, a hands-free computer. While the technology can’t cure vision problems, it offers programs that can improve quality-of-life for those diagnosed with them.
One program, Memento, has environmental awareness. Essentially, it will tell users what surrounds them including out-of-place chairs, office equipment, parked cars, etc. It “reads” the environment and then tells the wearers what’s in front of them. This aids their mobility and helps them avoid danger. The Question-Answer program allows users to ask what they are “looking” at. The wearer takes a photograph (using the glasses) and uploads it. Glass then reads the answer aloud. Glass then reads the answer aloud.
While the potential for Google Glass is exciting, we have available technologies that can improve eye health. One of the most surprising is a classic computer game: Tetris.
Doctors at McGill University conducted a small study that hints Tetris might be the next treatment for those with amblyopia, or “lazy eye.” Amblyopia affects about 3% of the population and prevents both eyes from focusing at once. The eye that’s able to focus becomes dominant and does the visual work for the “lazy” eye. To overcome amblyopia, patients generally wear a patch over the strong eye, therefore forcing the weaker eye to strengthen.
The research team found that Tetris forced patients’ respective eyes to work together. When both eyes cooperated with each other, the amblyopic brain relearned how to see, alleviating the impairment. The McGill study only focused on adults, but doctors are assessing how to suit this healing-while-playing approach to children.
When people discuss video games, one of the last things you expect to hear is how games improve ocular health. However, that is exactly what Daphne Maurer, Seong Taek Jeon, and Terri L. Lewis argue in their amblyopia and cataract research. According to their findings, first-person-shooter video games can drastically improve eyesight.
The study required a small group of patients to play Medal of Honor for 40 hours, over the course of one month. After the treatment, all patients showed some improvement. Some showed improved spatial contrast and movement sensitivity. Others could read fine details that would been a literal blur to them a few weeks before the experiment began. While gaming didn’t remove cataracts, patients could see through them much more easily.
Dr. Maurer believes that, much like Tetris therapy, success depends on making your eyes work together. This cooperation creates new pathways in the brain and improves eyesight.
Keeping Your Eyes Healthy
The prospect that everyday technology can improve our quality-of-life and visual health is exciting and full of possibilities. However, it is essential to consult your ophthalmologist before engaging in any ocular therapy. Self-diagnosing or ignoring a vision issue can be harmful to your health. Once you’ve made an appointment and talked with your doctor, enjoy your journey to better eye health.