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MCPHS School of Optometry’s Greg Waldorf, OD, Shares Tips for Avoiding Eyestrain

  • With Americans spending more and more time using bright screens, it’s important to take a step back and look at the big picture. Or, more precisely, it’s important take a step back every 20 minutes to look 20 feet away from your screen for 20 seconds.

    That’s one of the guidelines set forth by the American Optometric Association (AOA), which recently unveiled new guidelines for Americans who use bright screens frequently—especially gamers.

    We sat down with Greg Waldorf, OD, FAAO, associate dean for clinical programs in the School of Optometry at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) to hear his take on the guidelines.

    An AOA American Eye-Q® survey revealed that 41 percent of Americans spend more than four hours a week playing video games. What types of eye issues can this lead to?

    Playing video games does not damage the eyes, but studies suggest that extensive near-point work in childhood can contribute to the development of myopia (nearsightedness) or accelerate the severity of existing myopia over time. Children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to develop myopia than those who spend a lot of time indoors.

    According to the same survey, only 21 percent of respondents said they have spoken to an eye health professional about the amount of time they spend playing video games. Why should patients or their parents make a point of talking with their eye health professional about their amount of screen time?

    Children with binocular eye-teaming issues or uncorrected optical problems might experience eyestrain or headaches after extended periods of gaming, while those with normal eye teaming and no optical problems may not. Questions about near-vision activities do not have one “blanket” answer, which is why a good relationship with your optometrist is important; discussions should be tailored to the individual patient—you or your child.

    The AOA 20-20-20 rule is designed to ease eye discomfort by reminding patients to take a 20-second break, every 20 minutes, and look at something 20 feet away. How do these three things combine to combat eyestrain?

    Twenty seconds is a good length of time to let the eye-focusing system relax. Regular 20-second breaks are important because the focusing system is controlled by muscles that can get tired with intensive near-point work for extended periods of time. The further away you gaze, the more relaxed your eye-focusing muscles are; they become completely relaxed when viewing a target 20 feet away.

    Optometrists also recommend positioning yourself correctly, using protective eyewear, and paying attention to the negative effects of glare. If patients can tackle only one of these changes as part of their daily routine, which one do you feel would be most impactful?

    Sitting posture and positioning are important for longer periods of near-point work. If you are sitting 5 feet from a television screen as opposed to 12 inches from a tablet, the eyes experience less focusing demand. Eyeglasses should be worn as your optometrist suggests. If you or your child is a big gamer, ask your optometrist whether to wear glasses or not for playing video games. As I mentioned, there is not one single solution for everyone’s needs.

    With digital technology and bright screens becoming a bigger part of our daily lives, what is your most important piece of advice for young people looking to protect their eyes?

    I wouldn’t worry about digital technology causing long-term damage to your eyes. I recommend annual exams for everyone who has a lot of near-point visual demands, because as we all get older our focusing systems change. Your glasses or contact lenses may need to be modified to keep you gaming at your highest levels.

    What’s your favorite part of being an optometrist?

    I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they get new glasses or contact lenses that help them see clearly.

    The School of Optometry at our Worcester, Massachusetts, campus is a four-year, full-time program designed to prepare students with the requisite skills, experience, and confidence to practice and advance as a professional optometrist in a wide variety of clinical settings.