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Physical pitfalls of the digital age

Laptops, smartphones, tablets, e-readers—these go-anywhere, do-anything devices are popping up everywhere you look. But do the power and convenience that digital devices offer come at a price? Discover the vision-related causes and practical solutions to combat three physical effects we endure in the digital age.

Beat Back Pain

Many day jobs involve spending long hours in front of a computer. But when the majority of your time is spent slouched toward a screen, eye strain—as well as back and shoulder pain—can start to wreak havoc.

"On traditional LCD screens, images are represented in pixels, which are darker in the center and become less defined on the outside," explains Justin Bazan, OD, a VSP doctor at Park Slope Eye in Brooklyn, NY. "Any time you have that pixilated effect, your eyes have trouble locking on and constantly re-focus." That constant straining to find focus can cause eye fatigue and poor posture, leading to tight shoulders and a sore back. So what steps can you take?

"Consider making small adjustments to your working environment," suggests Dr. Bazan. Changing your web browser or desktop display to a darker color will minimize contrast and give your eyes a break. You may also try increasing the text size on your digital device, replacing your desk chair with an exercise ball, or converting your workspace to a standing desk. These simple changes can instantly improve your posture and alleviate the aches and pains associated with constant computer use.

Ditch Dry Eyes

Under normal circumstances, humans blink about 18 times a minute. But new studies show that when using cell phones, video games, tablets, and computers, we blink nearly three times less.

"If you're not blinking enough, the surface of your eye is exposed," explains Dr. Bazan. "The tears that normally bathe and protect the eye dissipate, leaving your eyes dry and easily irritated." Dry eyes can make gaming and computing uncomfortable and less productive, and may even lead to chronic dry eye or long-term damage down the road.

Consider scheduling breaks throughout your day, posting a note with a prompt to blink, or downloading an application that generates automatic on-screen reminders. "Taking 5-minute breaks goes a long way in fighting fatigue," Dr. Bazan explains. Grab a glass of water during those breaks to keep your eyes and body hydrated and healthy.

Find Headache Relief

If you've ever struggled with vision problems, you know the relief that comes with finding the proper prescription. But most vision-correcting lenses are designed for general use—not the close distance at which we use our digital devices.

"Glasses are often set for us to see ideally down the street," Dr. Bazan explains. "When using displays or monitors at a closer distance, your eyes have to work harder to pull that faraway focus back up close." That constant strain can cause painful headaches over time. But the solution may be as simple as a second set of glasses.

While not intended to replace your regular lenses, computer lenses can provide enhanced vision for use with your digital devices. "By getting the ideal prescription for specific activities, you let the glasses do the work," explains Dr. Bazan. With the job of proper focus delegated to computer lenses, patients find they see better, and headaches are no longer an issue.

Some e-readers utilize more advanced pixel representation, which is easier on the eyes—and head—than traditional LCD screens. "These devices actually simulate print," explains Dr. Bazan, "When your eyes can find a resting focal point, you don't have the same problems you do with pixilated text."

Looking for physical relief from the barrage of your digital devices? Start by visiting your VSP doctor to get the right prescription for your daily activities—digital consumption included.