Maintaining Good Eye Health in the Digital Age

Digital eye strain is unavoidable these days. Yet, we can still try protecting our eye health with nutrition, supplements and good habits.

Top view of a happy family laying on a grass

As we spend more time being home and doing activities online, there’s a looming concern about deteriorating eye health among the working-age population and younger generations. A study in 2021 has discovered that pandemic-era digital screen use is greatly associated with growing cases of myopia or near-sightedness in adolescents in China. 

In Malaysia, statistics show that, as of the third quarter of 2020, people in the country spend around 9,17 hours on the internet daily. What’s more, most prefer to access the internet using their smartphones. As you can see, Malaysians spend more than a third of their day staring at digital screens. 

Since people do need to look at their digital devices for working or studying these days, it seems impossible to completely avoid daily screen time for the sake of our eyes. But it doesn’t mean we cannot try to protect our vision. Read along as we discuss the nutrition, supplements and lifestyle habits that can help maintain good eye health. 

A Digital Threat to Eye Health

Have you been experiencing these symptoms? 

  1. Blurred vision 
  2. Difficulty in refocusing 
  3. Irritated or burning eyes 
  4. Dry eyes 
  5. Tired eyes 
  6. Sensitivity to bright lights 
  7. Eye discomfort 
  8. Headaches 

If you answer yes to more than one or all of them, you are most likely suffering from eye strain.

According to Pickwell’s Binocular Vision Anomalies, eye strain or asthenopia means weakness, or debility, of the eye or vision. When the symptoms occur due to the use of laptops, smartphones, tablets and the like, the condition is referred to as digital eye strain (DES) or computer vision syndrome (CVS).

This problem can lead to myopia in youths. While the condition is usually fixed with eyeglasses, myopia can progress and turn severe. Myopia links to retinal detachment, cataracts, myopic maculopathy, and glaucoma, which can blind the patients.

How to Protect Eye Health

A man wearing a blue flannel shirt using a smartphone and a laptop in a cafe
Looking away from screens and rest your eyes every 20 minutes.

It’s advised to spend only two hours online per day, but that sounds unattainable in this day and age. Yet, we can try to fight the effects of DES through these means:

Improve Nutrition

Like other organs in the body, the eyes need nutrients. These nutrients can benefit the eyes: 

1.DHA fatty acid 

Short for docosahexaenoic acid, DHA is a component found in abundance in the brain and retina.

Sources: Fish and fish oil products. 

2. Vitamins A, B12, C and E 

Vitamin A is used to treat symptoms of dry eyes, particularly blurred vision, vitamin B12 promotes nerve activity. While vitamin C can reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and vitamin E protects the eyes from free radicals. 

Sources: Vitamin A is prominent in the liver, and vitamin B12 in meat. Both can also be found in fish, dairy and eggs. Vitamin C is in oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, papaya and tomatoes. Lastly, vegetable oils, nuts and sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin E. 

3. Zinc 

The mineral functions to transfer vitamin A from the liver to the retina. This process allows the eyes to produce melanin, which serves as their protective pigment. Zinc deficiency links to poor night vision and cataracts.

Sources: Red meat, oysters and nuts and seeds.

Consume Natural Supplements

An overhead shot of a bowl of wild bilberries.
Wild bilberries are good for eye health

These foods consist of components that can support eye health: 

1.Wild bilberries

An antioxidant named anthocyanin helps enhance night vision and is an eye supplement. A study proved its effectiveness and said that anthocyanin indeed improved dark adaptation (eye’s ability to adapt to darkness) as well as retinal blood circulation in glaucoma patients. Anthocyanin is found in berries, especially wild bilberry. These berries grow in Europe, but products containing the fruit, like wild bilberry juice, are available in Malaysia. 

2. Carrots

It’s true what they say about carrots; they are good for the eyes. Carrots owe this to one of its components, beta-carotene, which converts into vitamin A.

3. Goji berries

Frequently used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), goji berries contain lutein and zeaxanthin. The two pigments filter out the blue lights from the digital screen and protect the retina. By doing so, they also help to prevent the development of AMD. Goji berries are also one of the ingredients in Qi Ju Di Huang Wan, a TCM remedy for dry eyes and blurry vision.

Make Lifestyle Changes

The American Optometric Association (AOA) highlights the importance of proper body positioning when using a computer. 

  1. The consensus is it’s more comfortable to look downward at a computer. Place the screen 40-75 cm away, and the top must be slightly below horizontal eye level.  
  2. Make sure the screen doesn’t reflect the glare from the windows or overhead lighting. Apply an anti-glare filter on the screen to reduce blue light. Clean the screen to decrease glare and improve clarity. 
  3. Pick comfortable padded chairs that conform to the body. Adjust the height, so the feet rest flat on the floor. The wrists must not recline on the keyboard when typing. 
  4. Take a break once in a while. Try following the 20-20-20 rule; take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes. 
  5. Remember to blink. 

These can also be applied when using smartphones. Just remember the three key points: Distance, brightness and time. Make sure to distance the eyes and screen, browse under ample lighting and take rest breaks. Moreover, AOA recommends avid computer — and smartphone — users to get a routine eye check. 

It’s not easy to maintain good eye health these days, but drinking tasty bilberry or carrot juice and taking breaks every 20 minutes sound bearable. They may seem like little things, but if they can help, why not give them a try?

This is an adaptation of an article, “The Supplements Phubbers Need”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.

References

  1. Frontiers. 2021. Adolescent Vision Health During the Outbreak of COVID-19: Association Between Digital Screen Use and Myopia Progression  [Accessed 18 January 2022] 
  2. Statista. 2021. Average time spent using online media in Malaysia in Q3 2020, by activity  [Accessed 18 January 2022] 
  3. PubMed. 2018. Symptoms associated with reading from a smartphone in conditions of light and dark  [Accessed 18 January 2022] 
  4. Ento Key. 2021. Detecting Binocular Vision Anomalies in Primary Eyecare Practice[Accessed 18 January 2022] 
  5. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2014. Clinical management of progressive myopia  [Accessed 18 January 2022] 
  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2012. Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life  [Accessed 18 January 2022] 
  7. American Optometric Association. Computer vision syndrome  [Accessed 18 January 2022] 
  8. American Optometric Association. Diet and Nutrition  [Accessed 18 January 2022] 
  9. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2021. A Review of Topical and Systemic Vitamin Supplementation in Ocular Surface Diseases  [Accessed 18 January 2022] 
  10. Science Daily. 2022. Dried goji berries may provide protection against age-related vision loss  [Accessed 18 January 2022] 
  11. National Health Service. 2017. Vitamin A  [Accessed 18 January 2022] 
  12. National Health Service. 2017. Vitamin B  [Accessed 18 January 2022] 
  13. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2019. Therapeutic Effects of Anthocyanins for Vision and Eye Health  [Accessed 18 January 2022] 

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