A Guide to Digital Eyestrain in College Courses
Recently, students have started returning to campuses after the COVID-19 pandemic forced classes to move online through apps like Zoom, Skype and WebEx. Even with this return to form, electronics remain more than ever an integral part of students’ daily routines. Educators use websites like Blackboard and Canvas to provide easily accessible assignments, while e-books and free online databases offer helpful alternatives to overpriced textbooks. The shift to digital education has produced many conveniences for students and teachers. However, the countless hours spent on electronic devices for both lessons and entertainment lead to the unhealthy side effect of eye strain among students. Although the onset of eye strain may seem inevitable given the need to use computers in most classes, there are several simple ways to alleviate it and even prevent it without sacrificing time or efficiency. .
Dealing with the effects of screen use
Screen-related eye strain, often referred to by optometrists as “computer vision syndrome” (CVS) or “digital eye strain” (DES), is a surprisingly common condition. The COVID-19 pandemic has played a significant role in this, as a March 2021 study found that 88% of device users suffer from ESD. In contrast, a 2018 article claimed that just over 50% of people regularly experience eye strain. Both of these stats are incredibly high, but the continued increase presents a worrying sign for the future.
Despite this ubiquity, few people know exactly what makes computer screens so harmful to the eyes. As an article in the SAS Journal of Medicine explains, our eyes find it harder to focus on digital screens than on printed text. Unlike the dense, defined edges of print, computers form letters and images through pixels that are brightest at their center. The intensity of this light often causes our eyes to unconsciously move to more relaxed positions. Trying to stay focused on digital text puts constant strain on the muscles that move the eyes, which eventually develops into eye strain after a long period of time. Similar studies also show that we blink less often when looking at screens, which dries out and further damages the eyes. While people with healthy eyesight are susceptible to eye strain, an article by Troy Bedinghaus indicates that the condition is much more severe in people with pre-existing eye problems.
Fortunately, most solutions to treat and prevent ESD require very little time and effort. One of the easiest ways to prevent eye strain is to adjust the display settings of a computer or phone to reduce physical discomfort. Reducing screen brightness and increasing font size relieves strain on eye muscles. Likewise, adjusting the screen contrast and refresh rate prevents flickering and other visual effects that induce discomfort. In addition to screen settings, environmental working conditions such as intense screen glare or poor room lighting contribute to the severity of eye strain when using devices. Finally, keeping the screen about 20 centimeters below eye level and an arm’s length from your face helps keep your eyes in a relaxed position while you work.
In addition to short-term symptoms of eye strain, prolonged use of digital screens can increase the risk of permanent damage or disease. LED monitors produce “high energy visible” (HEV) light, commonly referred to as “blue light”, which contains only slightly less energy than harmful UV rays. Unlike UV rays, blue light can easily penetrate the retina, raising concerns about potential damage from prolonged exposure. Studies published in Molecular Vision and the International Journal of Ophthalmology describe how blue light can weaken the eye and increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, two major causes of blindness in older people. Another article from the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology describes how large amounts of blue light inflict similar damage to skin cells and tissues.
It should be noted that blue light is not inherently harmful, as people are regularly exposed to it through natural sunlight. According to Healthline, daytime exposure to blue light increases cognitive function, improving your memory and alertness. However, these effects become harmful at night by disrupting your circadian rhythm, or “sleep-wake cycle,” sometimes leading to insomnia. A Scientific Reports article links the severity of this disruption to higher screen brightness. For this reason, device users should avoid using bright screens at night, or at least reduce their brightness settings if necessary.
Research into the damage caused by exposure to blue light has yet to come to a conclusive conclusion, but the potential risks are worth finding alternatives to electronic devices, such as physical laptops, memory cards and manuals. If electronic devices are required, however, the 20-20-20 rule (looking away from the screen every 20 minutes at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds) is a highly recommended and effective practice for preventing eye strain. Blue light glasses are also available at various retailers, although studies on their effectiveness are just as inconclusive as those on blue light itself. Either way, striking a balance between screen use and eye rest is key to staying on top of class without suffering eye strain or other serious symptoms.
Ways colleges and professors can help
The negative impact of eye strain on student performance and well-being raises questions about how colleges and professors can help prevent DES in addition to assigning less work. While most students certainly wouldn’t mind this approach, there are a few possible ways educators can help reduce instances of ESD without changing their class schedules. A simple solution would be to reintroduce paper documents as part of regular lessons. Physical tests and study guides allow students to work on courses without prolonged exposure to digital screens. Replacing sources of eye strain and blue light will likely help students feel better and improve their academic performance. An article by Michele Willens of The Atlantic supports this possibility, citing several studies and interviews that showed students were more prepared for in-person tests than online tests, leading to better overall grades in the first. .
Despite the benefits this may bring, colleges are unlikely to move away from their current online format. Assignments submitted digitally are much easier to organize and cost much less than paper. Additionally, allowing online assignment submission benefits students with busy schedules who may not be able to attend all classes. Online support also includes auto-graded assignments, allowing students to receive feedback immediately after submitting their work and saving teachers a lot of time.
Rather than changing their teaching methods, colleges could help students by raising awareness of common causes of eye strain. This idea was tested by a study published in the American Journal of Nursing Research, which found a decrease in DES symptoms in device users who interacted with an educational program that discussed ways to remedy eye strain. . If more schools adopted similar information tools to raise awareness of preventive measures against DES, students could improve both their academic performance and their chances of success.
Eye strain has become a significant problem for students due to a lack of awareness on how to prevent it. While many have experienced the symptoms of DES, most don’t know its causes or ways to counter it. As such, the best way for colleges to help students is to educate them about simple ways to prevent eye strain. Likewise, students should organize their workspace and adjust their screens to create comfortable conditions for their eyes and try to avoid using electronic screens for long periods of time (especially at night). Given the short time allowed by the college schedule, this is understandably a difficult task. However, taking these steps will not only prevent future vision problems in students, but will also help them stay efficient and focused during their hectic classes.