Too much screen time taking toll on eyes

Saturday October 05 2019

The dazzle of digital gadgets disguises the toll they have on the user’s vision. .PHOTO | FILE | NMG


The dazzle of digital gadgets disguises the toll they have on the user’s vision. This problem is an additional wrinkle to a world with about 1.3 billion people living with some form of vision impairment.

If you use a computer, a tablet or a smartphone for long hours and have episodes of headaches and dry, red eyes, you could be joining a growing statistic of people suffering from digital devices-induced eye-problems.


A 2018 study published in the British medical journal Open Ophthalmology, shows that 50 per cent of users of digital devices complain of vision problems and eye discomfort. Their most common complaints are dry eyes, redness, headaches, blurred vision and pain in the neck and shoulders. When we read through digital screens, our eyes work harder than they would if we read text on paper.

While reading or watching captivating material on a screen, the eye’s blinking rate is reduced by a third or even a half of its normal rate, which can lead to a burning sensation in the eyes. We also don’t blink fully, leaving the eyes less oiled. With eyes open longer and blinking less, the fluid that lubricates the eye evaporates faster, leading to a number of eye-complications.

Unlike when working off paper, spending time looking into a screen forces our eyes to squint, thereby straining the nerves connecting the eye to the brain. Consequently, the eyes and their attendant muscles get stressed, leading to fatigue and headaches.


These problems are aggravated by the posture we often take while using the gadgets. If the screen that you use most of the time is placed above or below your eye level, is strained leading to additional discomforts.


To avoid these posture-problems, keep your computer screen at an arm’s length from your face and ensure that it aligns with your eye-level. That way, you do not have to tilt your head, slump your shoulders or arch your back.

Ophthalmologists advise that we should give our eyes a break regularly so that they can lubricate and refocus. Use the 20-20-20 rule; that is, for every 20 minutes on the screen, look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Gadgets also emit blue light. Whereas there is no evidence that blue light affects your vision, it could affect your sleeping cycle.


When using your phone before bedtime, blue light cheats your body that it’s still daytime while in actual fact, your body should be preparing to shut down and fall asleep. Using your phone or computer before bedtime could lead to prolonged hours of sleeplessness.

The advice? Keep your device away two to three hours before bedtime if you want to enjoy optimal sleep. Alternatively, choose night-time mode when using your device at night. The night-time mode blocks away the blue light.

Let’s embrace digital devices without losing the sight of their inherent dangers.

Wambugu is an informatician. E-mail: [email protected] @samwambugu2