Manitoba

Too much screen time causing eye strain in more patients, says Winnipeg optometrist

With Canadians spending more and more time on computers, smartphones and binge watching television, Winnipeg optometrist, Dr. Luke Small, says eye strain now affects more than half his patients.

Dry eyes, blurred vision, headaches common symptoms of too much screen time

Dr. Luke Small sat down with CBC Information Radio's Marcy Markusa to talk about the negative effects of spending to much time on electronic devices. 1:33

With Canadians spending more and more time on computers, smartphones and binge watching television, Winnipeg optometrist, Dr. Luke Small, says eye strain now affects more than half his patients.

Screen time has increased dramatically in recent years, to as much as 16 hours a day, Dr. Small said.

"People get off their computer then get back to their tablets and then they're looking at a big screen TV," he said.
Former Toronto Blue Jays infielder Brett Wallace undergoes eye examination in 2010. Winnipeg optometrist, Dr. Luke Small, recommends patients take regular breaks to prevent eye strain while doing computer work, playing video games, or watching television. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

Common symptoms of eyestrain include dry eyes, blurred vision, and headaches. Neck and back pain can also affect patients suffering from eyestrain, Dr. Small said.

It's not just an issue among children, he added, patients in their 90s are suffering from eye strain after using devices like iPads for prolonged periods of time.

"It's really the close work, something that I call visual demand. Whenever we look up-close our eyes have to work a little bit harder," he said.

Practice the 20-20-20 rule

Dr. Small recommends people follow the 20-20-20 rule: for every 20 minutes of screen time, a person should look 20 feet away for 20 seconds to rest their eyes. Remembering to blink regularly is also important, he said.

"As we sit and stare at something for any prolonged amount of time it's like holding dumbbells and the biggest thing that I tell people is taking breaks," Dr. Small said.

While there are now proven long-term health impacts of eye strain, Dr. Small said, some studies have linked myopia, or problems seeing far away, with looking at something up-close for long periods of time.

"Definitely with myopia it's a combination of environment and genetics," said Dr. Small.

Some countries, including China, have begun enforcing recess for all students to encourage them to put down their work and look far away, he said.

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