It’s that time once again: We’re back from spring break and it’s time to get back to doing endless hours of schoolwork. For many, including myself, this includes hours of staring at a computer screen—writing papers, downloading PDFs off of Moodle, and, of course, looking at Facebook photos of all the fabulous adventures my friends went on over break. Essentially, I plan on spending a lot of time with my laptop in the next week. As a result, I will probably get a few mild headaches and probably some dreaded eye strain. Many of you know what I am talking about, and WebMD has even properly termed it as “Eye Fatigue.” According to WebMD, Eye fatigue or eyestrain is “a common and annoying condition. The symptoms include tired, itching, and burning eyes. One of the most common causes of eye fatigue is staring for long periods at digital devices” (WebMD, “Eye Fatigue,” 2014).
Unfortunately, there is no escaping the computer in its entirety, so I have looked up some tips and tricks to help avoid digital eyestrain for the rest of the semester. The first, and most commonly suggested, tip is to take a break. Dr. Edward Kondrot, founder of the Healing The Eye & Wellness Center, suggests that one should take a break by looking away from the computer every 15 minutes. He claims that this break will allow the focusing muscle to relax (CNN, “How to Avoid Digital Eyestrain,” 02.03.14).
Another common suggestion is to make sure that your digital screen is at least 20 to 24 inches away from your face. You want to be positioned slightly above the screen as to be looking at a slight angle downwards when reading something (VSP, “Computer Vision Syndrome: Kids, Computers and Digital Eye Damage,” 2014).
Another quick fix to help reduce strain can be as simple as brightening your screen. The brighter the screen, the fewer flickers there are from the computer. Flickering of the screen is sometimes unnoticeable but is one of the common features that leads to fatigue. Dr. Kondrot points out that flickering is an aspect of digital screens that leads to headaches (Philly.com, “5 Tips for avoiding digital eyestrain,” 2.11.14).
However, for me the most interesting tip I learned about was “palming,” a supposed quick-fix mediation for the eyes. Palming is the act of closing the eyes, placing your palms on top, and participating in taking deep, steady-paced breaths (KUTV, “Preventing Digital Eyestrain,” 2.4.14).
The list of tips and tricks to help prevent eye strain goes on and on. However, what drew me to researching and writing this article was not the tips and tricks of avoidance, but having serious thoughts about how much time in a day I spend looking at some sort of digital screen big or small. I carry my cell phone with me everywhere—texting and tweeting, checking the weather and daily news. I estimate I spend at least two to five hours on a computer doing homework every day. “Mastering Physics,” the homework software for introductory physics courses here at Vassar, is completely online and I have assignments two to five times a week. I check my Moodle at least twice per day. I send emails, I write papers. The list of things I do on the computer could—like the very tips and tricks for reducing eye strain and fatigue—go on and on.
I know I am not alone, too, for when you enter the Vassar library, you will see laptops open at almost every table and students scattered at the various computers the library offers us to use. Even in the new Vassar viewbook for prospective students to look at, the shot of the inside of the library has every single student with a computer in front of them. Digital devices have become a normal, necessary component of our lives, but there may be a cost.
Eye strain is rarely considered a serious medical condition, but Dr. Justin Bazan, a doctor at Park Slope Eye in Brooklyn, NY is concerned. Although eye strain may not be considered serious, increased exposure to digital devices puts one at risk for Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)—a serious condition that can cause back and neck pain, dry eye and even headaches. Dr. Bazan is primarily concerned with students and says, “All-around school performance starts with the eyes. Academics, sports, you name it—everything depends on the quality of our eyesight” (VSP, “Computer Vision Syndrome: Kids, Computers and Digital Eye Damage,” 2014).
It appears Dr. Bazan is worried that the new digital age may affect our vision, which may ultimately change something bigger—our education. I encourage you to truly think about the amount of time you spend everyday staring at digital screen, and perhaps try a few of the tips listed above. Who knows, your eyes may end up thanking you in the long run.
—Delaney Fischer ’15 is a neuroscience major.