Device fatigue: Digital eye strain on the rise in younger workers

Our exposure LED light may be affecting our sleep patterns

Device fatigue: Digital eye strain on the rise in younger workers

Generic stock photo shows a laptop screen displaying a low battery symbol | Image: Dominic Lipinski PA Archive/PA Images

One expert is warning that digital eye strain is becoming more common for younger workers.

On average, nearly nine in 10 adults - or 88% - spend more than two hours each day using a digital device, with one in 10 people spending at least three-fourths of their waking hours on a digital device.

Research shows 65% of Americans are reporting symptoms of digital eye strain - such as dry, irritated, eyes, blurred vision, eye fatigue, neck and back pain and headaches.

Digital eye strain is the physical discomfort felt after prolonged exposure to digital screen - including desktop and laptop computers, tablets, e-readers and mobile phones.

"It is not uncommon to start experiencing symptoms after spending two or more hours staring at a device, or more realistically, multiple devices", the US-based Vision Council says.

"In fact, on average, 75% of people who use two or more devices simultaneously report experiencing symptoms of eye strain compared to only 53% of people who use just one device at a time."

Roy Hessel, president and CEO of online eyewear seller Clearly, has told the World Economic Forum: "For many of us, the glow of a phone’s screen is the first thing we see when we wake and the last thing we see before sleep.

He writes: "In between, we fill the hours bathed in LED light, staring first at documents and emails, then Facebook updates and Netflix.

"One of the biggest eye-burn culprits, not surprisingly, is the office, where being planted in front of a screen is often a requirement of the job."

Healthy sleep pattern?

He says the majority of Americans now report symptoms of digital eye strain, including neck, shoulder and back pain (36%), eye strain (35%), headaches (25%), blurred vision (25%) and dry eyes (24%).

While the percentage of sufferers is greater among young people - with 73% of adults under 30 now experiencing these symptoms.

Hessel says a growing source of concern is the kind of light most digital devices emit.

"We all know about the invisible dangers of ultraviolet or UV light, but fewer people are aware of the potential risks of high energy light that we can see: blue light.

"Light on the blue end of the visual light spectrum contains more energy than warm colours like oranges and reds, and is known as high energy visual light (HEV)."

He says while blue light is everywhere - including in sunlight - digital screens and office lighting have drastically increased our exposure.

"It’s not all bad - blue light’s abundance in daylight boosts alertness. But when we’re bathing ourselves in HEV light constantly, the sustained exposure may well add up, preventing our bodies from settling into healthy sleep."

And unlike with UV light, human eyes do a poor job of filtering out blue light. Most worryingly, recent studies suggest HEV light can contribute to retinal damage and macular degeneration - an irreversible loss of vision. Research on this subject is just beginning, but early signs point to an association between long-term exposure and serious consequences.

The solution? To just take a 20-20-20 break. "Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away."