As we are marching towards digital revolution and tech dominance, there are new issues emerging due to the impact of innovation on our health in general and eyes in particular. Being a technologically driven generation, smartphones and digital screens are taking up a significant amount of our time which puts us at an increased risk of developing dry eyes. A normal tear film is a continuum of mucus, aqueous and lipid layers, which is essential to maintain the ocular health and improve the quality of vision. To ensure a healthy ocular surface, we need a tear film which is normal both in quantity and quality, which needs to be uniformly redistributed upon the surface of the eye on each blink, occurring about 15-20 times per minute.
With the increased use of smartphones and digital screens, we tend to blink half the times as normal which leads to rapid evaporation of the tear film, triggering off a vicious cycle of dry eye disease. Most of these individuals experience symptoms like burning, stinging or gritty sensation in the eyes with associated discomfort, irritation and sometimes pain, which is commonly termed as the "Computer Vision Syndrome". Upon longstanding dry eye disease, patients are predisposed to complications like break down of the corneal epithelium, which is the outermost layer of the cornea with subsequent scarring and drop in vision. They are also at a higher risk to develop corneal infections and further complications.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology has also reported that the high levels of blue light emitted from bright Light emitting diode (LED) screens deplete the levels of a hormone linked to the circadian rhythm called "Melatonin". This altered circadian rhythm causes difficulty in falling asleep among many individuals who use smartphones, especially at bedtime.
Another major concern with respect to the increased use of video display units (VDUs) like smartphones and tabs is the alarmingly increasing duration of time children are spending on these devices. This not only puts them at risk of developing dry eyes but also increases the risk of developing obesity and associated lifestyle disorders due to limited physical activity. Reports have also suggested that kids tend to reduce eye contact and interaction with parents and family as they stay busy with smartphones, which can affect their language, social and emotional development. Children also need adequate outdoor activity to improve their physical development and the three-dimensional concepts in the outdoor environment help them attain better cognitive skills compared to the two-dimensional concepts on these smartphones.
With innovation and technology playing a very constructive role in our lives and gadgets being everywhere, it is not possible to eliminate smartphone or screen use in our day to day life. However, measures can be taken that can bring down the risk of developing dry eyes. Some of the measures, including workspace modifications, that can help alleviate symptoms are:
- taking frequent breaks once every 20 minutes
- taking care to blink at regular intervals
- reducing the level of screen brightness
- using screen guards and blue filters
- Incorporating apps to set reminders to blink and stretch the body and limbs.
- We can also follow a simple and popular rule of 20-20-20, which stands for taking breaks from screens once every 20 minutes, for about 20 seconds by staring at an object at least 20 feet away.
Thus, while we enjoy the perks of advanced technology in our day to day life, we need to find a fine balance by ensuring appropriate utilization of video display units while making efforts to minimize the deleterious effects they can cause. This can be achieved by paying importance to this emerging issue and incorporating workplace and lifestyle modifications in our day to day life and by restricting the time kids spend on VDUs and encouraging them to increase outdoor and physical exercise.