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The eyes have it: The consequences of exposing your eyes to prolonged screen glare

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The consequences of exposing your eyes to too much prolonged screen glare can be severe

It began with a long-drawn session of House of Cards, remembers writer and film-maker Sudhish Kamath. “I watched five seasons over 65 hours in three weeks,” he says. By the end of the binge, the vision in his right eye was blurry and dim. “I could barely tell shapes,” he says. Panicking, he went to the doctor, who said he had CVS or Computer Vision Syndrome. “I didn’t know screen marathons would affect my eyes to the extent it did,” he says.

What is it?

The American Optometric Association describes Computer Vision Syndrome as, “a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use,” adding, “The level of discomfort seems to increase with the amount of digital screen use.”

Delhi-based eye surgeon, Dr Sanjay Dhawan, says that looking constantly at a screen has a two-fold effect. “It causes both muscular weakness and dryness of the eye,” he says. When we gaze at any screen, our eyes converge to focus on a point and we maintain this position for longer periods of time. Our blinking frequency, supposed to be 15-20 times per minute, goes down by approximately 60% while using a computer, according to a June 2011 article published in the Review of Ophthalmology. This can result in symptoms including chronic pain, extreme dryness, watery eyes ( they can happen together: dry spots in the eye cause irritation and watering) and itching, besides bringing on neck and back pain.

Who gets it?

Anyone who spends three hours or more staring at a digital screen is at risk, says a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (US) in 2014. “The prevalence of CVS ranges from 64% to 90% among computer users, with nearly 60 million people suffering from CVS globally. Also, there are a million-odd new cases occurring every year,” adds the study.

“People are spending a lot more time on their phones and devices than ever before,” says Chennai-based consultant psychiatrist, Dr Mohan Raj. For instance, a 2012 report released by Google stated that 90% of all media interactions are screen-based, which means on an average a consumer is spending 4.4 hours of leisure time in front of screens. Add in the 8-10 hours spent on our office laptops and desktops and you begin to realise how pervasive the phenomenon is.

Awareness is the first step, “They have to accept they have a problem,” says Dr Raj, after which one can set targets and come down on screen time. “You need to consciously wean yourself away from it,” he says.

How do you deal with it?

It helps to avoid looking at a screen the hour before you fall asleep since, “You will be too wound up and the sleep will not be restful,” says Dr Dhawan. The lack of good quality sleep does put a lot of stress on the eyes so, “listen to music instead of gazing at your TV or laptop,” he adds.

Other things that help: keeping your screen at eye-level and ensuring that it is at the right distance from your eyes (50 cm to 100 cm is considered ideal); maintaining proper posture at work; closing your eyes every 10-20 minutes; getting up from your system after every hour, and remembering to blink periodically. “Get adequate sleep, eat your meals regularly, drink enough water — hydration is important,” says Dr Dhawan, adding that washing eyes with clean water helps. Even better are lubricating drops, especially if you are a contact-lens wearer, whose eyes are already prone to dryness. “Wear your glasses if you plan to work on your screen for a long time,” he says. There is not enough evidence to suggest that anti-glare glasses make a lot of difference. And yes, “convergence exercises are a must,” he says.

It has been over a month since Kamath first encountered CVS and his vision is improving, slowly but surely. “I had fluid accumulation around my retina,” he says. There isn’t much he can do but wait for it to go away, and give his eyes a rest.

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The article has been updated with a revised quote.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 5:53:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/the-eyes-have-it/article19991956.ece

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