Even those of us who are proactive about our health may be ignoring something important. We eat right. We exercise. But even if we go for regular eye exams and wear sunglasses on sunny days, we may still be doing something daily that is damaging our eyes and our health: using digital devices without taking appropriate precautions such as wearing eye protection.
“Our eyes don’t like light-emitting objects. We can barely stare at the sun for a few seconds without damage, yet we stare at a computer all day long,” says computer eyewear innovator Joe Croft. “The medical profession has caught on. If you’re not protecting your eyes, you may be increasing your risk not just for digital eyestrain and dry eyes, but also for cataracts and macular degeneration.”
Croft adds that, “Blue light is a known contributor to poor sleep, which can lead to numerous serious health issues. But the issue is bigger than limiting your exposure to blue light. Extensive, unprotected computer use can lead to eye muscle strain and fatigue.”
He likens proper eyewear to quality footwear. “If your job was to run all day, you’d wear shoes to prevent sore feet and joint damage. Similarly, your eyes are a complex organ with 6 million moving parts, and some of the strongest muscles in your body. And they are running all day. About 2 or 3 hours of close staring at a computer screen is their max. However, we still put them to the test by staring at the screen for 6 to 8 hours a day or longer.”
Who is at risk for digital eyestrain?
The statistics are revealing. About 30 percent of adults now spend more than half of their waking hours on a digital device. And 83 percent of children between ages 10 and 17 use digital devices for more than 3 hours a day. An estimated 73 percent of 9- and 10-year-olds, and 80 percent of 13- and 14-year-olds now suffer from technology-induced sleep disorders. More children than ever are becoming nearsighted. The most alarming statistic is that 70 percent of Americans currently experience some form of digital eye strain, according to the Vision Council.
People aren’t going to stop looking at computers, so the solution has to make these devices easier on your eyes. “Eye doctors have long recommended taking frequent breaks, adjusting work stations to be ergonomically correct, and using proper eyewear. Many dedicated video-game players have long praised Gunnar’s proprietary computer eyewear which is backed by two clinical trials. Now the rest of us are discovering the importance of wearing high-tech eyewear developed specifically for computer and other digital device users.
How to evaluate computer eyewear
There are many brands of inexpensive eyewear that claim to block blue light. But Croft advises consumers to protect their eyes by wearing computer eyewear that takes a well-studied, scientific approach to the concerns. Here is a checklist to abide by when evaluating computer eyewear, and Croft’s recommendations for each step:
Do they have properly tinted lenses? “Certain tints filter the high-energy visible (HEV) blue light emitted from digital screens. Amber tints not only filter the proper HEV spectrum, but also add additional contrast to what you’re viewing so your eyes don’t have to work so hard. Avoid inexpensive amber lenses, especially those that make the entire screen look yellow.”
How much of the blue light spectrum does the lenses filter? “The lenses should filter the spectrum below 450 nanometers of blue light. If they don’t filter the right blue light frequency, they won’t prevent digital eyestrain. Also, some lenses filter only about 10 percent of the blue light. Others, such as Gunnar’s, filter as much as 65 percent. The best assurance that you’re getting the right type of blue light filter is to choose eyewear made with a computer-specific color formulation that is integrated directly into the lens material, and not applied as a surface treatment. These are considered medical devices.”
Is there an anti-reflective (AR) coating? “Doctor-prescribed eyewear typically comes with an anti-reflective coating to reduce distractions added by glare and reflections on the lens. The best computer eyewear will have this coating not only on the front side of the lens but on the back side as well. Most manufacturers use a greenish coating but true computer eyewear will use a blue AR coating that is tuned exactly to reflect the huge spike of blue energy that is emitted from digital screens.”
Do they have focusing power? “Staring at the screen is like trying to flex your biceps for 2 or 3 hours without stopping. Your eye muscles are working hard. You have to look away to relax. We’ve determined that a lens with 0.2 diopters of focusing power will do a lot of the heavy lifting and let your eye muscles relax so they become less fatigued.”
Do the frames have a wraparound design and fit close to the face? “People don’t realize that when you look at a computer, your blink rate reduces to about one third. Your eyes get dry. Computer eyewear with a wraparound design that fits close to the face minimizes dry eyes by holding more humidity between the lens and your eyes. This is often one of the first benefits people notice.”
Why blue light is so damaging to your sleep cycle
Normal light is full spectrum. To extend screen and battery life, screen light uses high frequency spikes of specific light waves. “It’s more efficient but harder on your eyes,” says Croft. Doctors recognized this and advise that every 20 minutes, it’s smart to look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. And don’t look at your computer for two or three hours before you go to bed.”
“The spectrum below 450 nanometers has been shown to be the most damaging to the retina, but that’s not all. Not only does it create the highest level of retinal cell death but this range of light controls your biological rhythms. Essentially, an abundance of blue light tells your body that it’s time to be awake. When you’re exposed to it, your body stops producing sleep-inducing hormones such as melatonin, and you wake up. Normally, when the sun goes down, your body starts producing those sleep-inducing hormones and you get tired.
“If you get heavy doses of blue light continuously from your computer screen, day and night, your brain never has time to turn off. That’s why digital devices take part of the blame for an estimated one third of Americans not getting enough sleep.”
Scott Sorensen is the president of Gunnar Optiks. He has successfully run optical brands for more than 20 years, and he is focusing his unique business approach on protecting eyes from the adverse effects of digital eye strain. // gunnar.com