Too much screen time causing vision problems, headaches — From not blinking enough

LONDON — Eye doctors may be seeing an influx of patients battling pain and vision problems — because they’re not blinking enough from too much screen time, according to a new study.

Researchers say humans naturally blink about 20 times per minute, but when concentrating on a computer, that rate drops to between just one and three times every 60 seconds. The lack of blinking is leading to a slew of frustrating symptoms for many, including blurred vision, dry eyes, and headaches brought on by eye strain from all that staring at the computer screen or smartphone.

The findings come after 2,000 British adults were surveyed about their digital media habits. The survey found that the average person spends nearly six hours a day looking at screens — equivalent to 84 days a year. All that staring leads to the typical 9-to-5 worker battling eye problems by 2 p.m., and a third of office workers say that they often suffer headaches from eye strain. One in five have battled blurred or disturbed vision.

Yet despite being fully aware of the troubles caused by screen time, 36% of participants say there’s no way they could go an entire day without looking at a screen. In fact, two in five can’t even remember their last screen-free day.

One way people are trying to alleviate the issue is by setting a self-imposed “cut-off time” for screens. The survey found those who use this method typically put their devices away at 9:25 p.m., but one in ten say they still wind up using their phone or laptop until midnight. And when one stays up too late using digital media, they may suffer from a “screen hangover” the next day, which involves worsened eyesight — something a quarter of participants have experienced.

Perhaps there’s something to such a phenomenon — a third say they feel “more awake” the next day if they avoided screen time in the evening.

“The results demonstrate how screens have really taken over our lives, they are everywhere we look,” says oculoplastic surgeon Sabrina Shah-Desai in a statement on behalf of Hycosan and Optase Eye Care, which commissioned the study. “Obviously it’s difficult to avoid them, especially in a working environment, but it’s vital that we take steps to look after our eyes and have regular breaks from artificial light and digital devices.”

Shah-Desai recommends following the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes look away at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Those who have no choice but to look at computer screen at work all day can also help themselves by taking regular breaks to give their eyes a rest. Half of those surveyed say they do just that, while 27% also try adjusting the brightness or text settings on the screen.

“Our eyes are essential, and we should treat them well to minimize any long term damage and maintain optimum health,” says Shah-Desai. “It’s these longer periods between blinking where symptoms of dry eyes arise, causing redness and a feeling of ‘grittiness’ and blurred vision.”

But even when we do our best to avoid screens, it seems that others still spoil our attempts to give our eyes a rest. Three in ten participants say they deal with “secondhand screen time” from a partner sitting in bed using his or her phone, while 55% deal with friends or colleagues taking our their devices in front of them at social events.

One surprising finding — televisions were found to be the most commonly viewed screen. The survey found 72% see a TV daily, compared to 68% who look at a mobile phone most often.

The survey was conducted by market research company OnePoll.