2019 New Year's resolution: Give your eyes a rest and put down your phone

A young man checks his phone in Glenview, Illinois.
A young man checks his phone in Glenview, Illinois.


Top reported side effects of extended digital device use:1. Sore neck, shoulders or back: 31 percent2. Sore, tired, burning or itchy eyes: 25 percent3. Headache: 21 percent4. Watery or dry eyes: 20 percent5. Blurred or double vision: 19 percentSource: Unum

As many Americans ponder potential New Year's resolutions, they may want to consider giving their eyes a break from too much screen time.

A recent online poll found that 40 percent of U.S. adults spent more than 12 hours a day on various digital devices, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. In the same study by Unum of more than 1,200 people, 34 percent said they feel they spend too much time on their devices.

Digital eye strain is an emerging and serious side effect of extended digital device use, said Betty Morris, a senior vocational rehabilitation consultant at Unum.

"Your eyes are operated by a series of muscles, and if you, for instance, lifted a 10-pound rock over and over again for 12 hours, it would cause what we call repetitive use strain or injury - it's the same with our eyes," Morris said.

Signs of digital eye strain can include headaches, eye fatigue, burning, stinging, redness, watering, blurred vision or even pain in the neck and shoulders after extended time on devices. Women in the survey reported a higher incidence rate of each of these side effects than men.

While respondents to the Unum poll are experiencing eye strain, they don't anticipate their use of devices to decrease; 27 percent of respondents expect their use of digital devices to increase or dramatically increase in the coming five years.

Morris said small adjustments such as reducing the brightness or contrast on screens, maintaining good posture and assuring screens are at proper angles and distances can help. She also recommends looking at a different object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes throughout the work day, and she said employers can help by supporting and raising awareness of these preventative strategies.

It's important to keep prescriptions for corrective lenses up to date, she said, and people who do not wear lenses should still get a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years.

Rene Milligan, a marketing director at Unum, said the insurer conducted the poll, in part, because Unum recently began offering vision insurance.

"We don't yet know the long-term implications of digital device use on vision health," Milligan said. "Understanding the health implications of some of these aspects of our daily life - but then also how health insurance and coverage can impact that - is important."

The most common vision problems in Tennessee are nearsightedness and cataracts, affecting more than 1.2 million adults age 40 and over, according to the 2012 Vision Problems in the U.S. report.

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