Dr. Dawna Ara, DACM

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Keeping an Eye on Your Vision


Eyesight is a precious commodity that we sometimes take for granted. The American Optometric Association acknowledges that eye injuries are frequent in workplaces that expose employees to projectiles, inclement weather and chemicals. But there are also more common, and insidious, dangers to our eyes even if we work in a protected office environment or at home. Here are a few of the most prevalent, along with tips to keep your peepers protected!

Fluorescent Lighting

The most prevalent culprit is one used widely in workplaces since the 1930s; the fluorescent lamp. As we shift to more environmentally-responsible living and working spaces, we are replacing incandescent lighting with light from energy-saving fluorescent devices. Previously, fluorescent lighting was found mostly in office areas, but the current trend toward energy efficiency has caused an upsurge in fluorescent bulbs, which are now prevalent in most homes. This means that between work and home, many people spend their entire day exposed to this type of lighting. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health notes that many fluorescent lights fall outside the safe range of UV radiation exposure (2000 to 3500K and greater than 500 nanometers). Researchers estimate that this exposure to the blue light spectrum may increase eye-related diseases such as cataracts, macular degeneration and pterygia by up to 12%. In addition, fluorescents are filled with a gas that glows when electricity passes through a ballast. This on-and-off surging of power adds an imperceptible flicker to the light. Most people cannot discern the flicker, but it is known to cause migraines, headaches, eye strain and even anxiety.

What You Can Do

If you are lucky enough to have an office of your own, try bringing in a desk or table lamp with an incandescent bulb and turning off the overhead lights. If you have natural lighting from windows, make the most of it by opening shades, curtains or blinds, but situate your computer monitor where it won’t be affected by glare, which can also cause eyestrain. At home, use natural light or switch to incandescent lamps or fluorescent bulbs with UV filters installed.

Computer Vision Syndrome

If your work involves a lot of computer time, you may be at risk for Computer Vision Syndrome. In fact, it’s estimated that a whopping 50 to 90% of people that work on a computer screen or spend significant time on a tablet or smartphone describe having eye trouble related to this exposure. Sufferers can experience blurred or double vision, dry eyes, headaches and even back or neck pain.

What You Can Do

First, control glare, which is a primary cause of eye strain. Close shades or dim the lights if you can or place your monitor in an area that allows it to remain glare-free. If that isn’t a possibility in your space, purchase glare protection like View Guard for your computer monitor. To minimize neck and back strain, make sure the monitor is at the optimal viewing range, about 20 to 28 inches away from your face and 4 to 5 inches below eye level. It is also helpful to use a typing stand if you have to transcribe from a paper document to an electronic one. To further alleviate strain and vision problems, give your peepers a break by looking away from your screen every 30 seconds or so to rest your eyes. Look at something far away during these mini-breaks. This will exercise the small muscles that help you focus and keep your vision sharp. Finally, since studies show that people who stare at electronic devices or computer screens blink less, remember to blink often to remedy dry eyes and give your eyes a rest.

Blue Light from Electronic Devices

Sunlight contains 25-30% blue light, and we definitely need some sun exposure to help keep ourselves healthy. Even so, if you work or play outside a great deal of the time, experts recommend wearing UV blocking sunglasses to minimize blue light exposure and protect your eyes from developing cataracts and other sight-occluding issues. Unfortunately, staying indoors doesn’t solve the problem, as there are many artificial sources of blue light that we are exposed to on a daily basis.These include fluorescent lamps and light emitting diodes (LEDs). LEDs are prevalent in today’s digital world: they are found in computer monitors, tablets, readers and smartphones and now even home lighting. Not only do they emit blue light, but we are at risk for higher exposure from these devices since we tend to hold them closer to our eyes than printed materials. And the younger you are, the higher your exposure. Young people have larger pupils, which allows more of the harmful blue light into the eye.

Besides exposing eyes to light from the blue end of the spectrum that can damage the retina over time and contribute to macular degeneration, blue light also inhibits your sleep cycle by halting production of melatonin, the hormone that helps produce restful, restorative sleep. Exposure to blue spectrum light from electronic tablets, computers and phones, especially late in the day or in the evening, may cause people to suffer from insomnia or restless sleep.

What You Can Do

If you have the money, you can replace your computer monitor with a screen that reduces blue light exposure while keeping color quality high, like the Ben-Q. Another option, which is both simple and free, requires the installation of an innovative program, f.lux, on your computer or device. F.lux allows you to set your computer screen to coordinate with the time of day to make your screen adaptive, giving you warm light at night and the soothing look of sunlight during daytime. You can even set it to a static wavelength if you like the look of a “warm” screen all day. It’s available for Windows and Mac, and for most devices. Unfortunately, if you own an iPad, and iPod or an iPhone, you will have to jailbreak your device in order to install f.lux. If you don’t want to jailbreak your device look to a company called Reticare that currently makes the only eye protector for electronic devices. It’s an easy-to-use screen filter which you apply to your phone, tablet or computer monitor to mimic the look of sunlight and reduce your blue light exposure.

Your eyesight is priceless, and it may only take a few simple, inexpensive modifications to your modern lifestyle to ensure that it remains sharp and clear for years to come. Take a few moments, assess your individual situation, and think about what you can do to limit your exposure to eye-damaging and sleep-hindering dangers. Then make some changes and enjoy the results!

About Nikki Williams (website)
Nikki B. Williams is a freelance writer based in Houston, TX. She has written for a variety of clients from the Huffington Post, Loyola University’s online magazine, The Center for Digital Ethics to Celtic jewelry designers in Ireland. Her first nonfiction book, The One Size Does NOT Fit All Guide to Stress Management will be available on Amazon soon.