Is staring into the internet, day in day out, bad news for your mental health and social life? Maybe, maybe not. Staring into the internet definitely messes with your eyes, though, and the longer you stare at screens, the less you blink—and the worse it gets. If you're reading this, apologies in advance.
Dry, red eyes straining to cut through the blur—we've all been there. The American Optometric Association officially recognizes this sort of screen-induced eye stress as computer vision syndrome. Preexisting, untreated, and/or aging-associated vision problems like astigmatism, farsightedness, and presbyopic aside, computer vision syndrome can be agitated by a range of common environmental factors, from poor lighting (it's too dark) to screen glare (it's too bright), to improper viewing distances (you're too close) and shitty posture (you're slouching).
It's something like dry eye. For a long time, dry eye, the result either of the eye not producing enough tears or tears drying up too fast, was believed to primarily affect woman, owing to menopause and hormonal shifts, as NPR reports.
Computer vision syndrome is dry eye for the digitally enslaved.
Not anymore. Today, dry eye has reached near-epidemic proportions, according to cornea specialist and American Academy of Ophthalmology representative Dr. Stephanie Marioneaux.
Computer vision syndrome is dry eye for the digitally enslaved. Why? Because we just can't seem to peel our attention away from all the screens.
"In today's world when people are so transfixed with tablets, phones, cable TV without commercials, you're not blinking," Marioneaux told NPR.
That's bad, because blinking is good. It's something we rarely even think about—how many times have you blinked today (before landing here) and thought to yourself, 'Aaaaand blink'—yet it's critical to immediate eye health.
Each time you blink, you coat your eye in a layer of mucus, a sort of tear film. It's arguably one of our most primal and refreshing bodily functions, and if we look at this 2011 study, published in the journal of the British College of Optometrists, there's evidence that people have a tendency to stare longer when reading screens than while reading text printed on paper.
Stare deeper, blink less, burn more. It's not rocket science.
"When we stare at computers, our blinking times decreased compared to reading a book at the table," Dr. Yuichi Uchino, an author on an eye study published last month in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, told the Independent.
Uchino and his team reported that tear fluid conditions, specifically the amount of the protein MUC5AC (an ingredient in the aforementioned tear film), in people who spent at least seven hours staring into screens were similar to those common in people diagnosed with red eye. For perspective, the AOA says if you spend just two continuous hours in front a computer, or whatever other screen you're using on a daily basis you're at the "greatest risk" for computer vision syndrome.
But hey, maybe it's not all bloodshot and blurred. Of course, staring into screens everyday is going to want to make you claw out your eyes either way. Nevertheless, "there's no evidence that there's any long-term damage from reading on a screen," as James Salz, an eye doctor at the University of Southern California, told the Washington Post.
Still, there are a few fixes here. If you're going to look down into the abyss during the working hours, Uchino suggests getting above your work station and tilting the screen upward. (Something, something robot standing desk?) Also, move out of the firing line of fans or air conditioners. And get a humidifier. Or, just blink and step away.