Do you remember your mom telling you not to sit to close to the TV because it would hurt your eyes? As much as we didn’t like hearing it, she wasn’t wrong. But now, we don’t think twice about sitting 20 inches away from a screen for hours and hours a day. Kids age 8-18 spend, on average, 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen. If you look around a modern workplace, there’s most likely a computer at every desk. At home, there are screens in every room, every nightstand, sometimes even built into the refrigerator door. In fact, you’re reading this on a screen right now.
All of this exposure to digital screens has resulted in a field of study into the effects of Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) and how we can avoid it. CVS is a temporary vision issue caused by staring at a digital screen for too long. People complain of eye strain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain, according to the American Optometric Association.
There are several factors that lead to this eye strain. First, our computer screens typically sit about 20-26 inches away from our eyes which is further away than our near vision (where we read a book), and closer than our far vision (where we look when we drive). Second, digital screens emit blue light on the far end of the spectrum that is difficult for our eyes to stay focused on. Third, light from the screen and ambient light reflects off our eyes and glasses, causing our eyes to have to refocus through the distractions.
First, let’s look at what they claim to do.
- Anti-reflective coating – A special coating on the outside of the lenses reduces the glare bouncing off your screen and from ambient light sources.
- Color tints – A specific yellow tinting increases contrast from the screen and filters out the far-spectrum blue light that our eyes struggle with.
- Wraparound design – Some computer glasses claim to help retain eye moisture by using a wraparound design that reduces air flow to your eyes.
Companies like Gunnar and VC Eyewear swear up and down that if you spend time daily on the computer, you need to use eye protection or you could end up with long-term vision problems. However, skeptics claim that there is really no inherent benefit to these lenses and they are overpriced due to aggressive marketing tactics.
The general consensus from optometrists and ophthalmologists is that the benefits of computer glasses is subjective simply because there are too many variables: your current eye ability, length of computer usage, environmental factors, ambient lighting, etc.
If you aren’t currently experiencing any noticeable eye strain or vision problems, you probably don’t need computer eyewear. In fact, Dr. Robert Noecker, Director of Glaucoma for Opthalmic Consultants of Connecticut, says that “computer eyewear does not necessarily prevent eye strain in an already optimized environment”. Basically, he’s saying that if you can see fine now, glasses aren’t going to make it better and could actually make it worse.
On the other hand, if you do experience symptoms of CVS, computer glasses may just be the right thing to help relax your eyes in the workplace. Trying out a pair for a week should be sufficient to help you decide if you need eye protection during extended periods of time at a digital screen. When selecting a pair of glasses, be sure to get premium anti-reflective coating. Also check with your vision insurance company to see if prescription computer glasses are covered.