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Screen Fatigue, Computer Vision Syndrome or Computer Eye Strain. Do we have an invisible pandemic?

 

You can call it what you like; you can diagnose it as whatever you want – but it’s a vast, unacknowledged problem that’s only getting worse. 

Call it blurred or double vision – or call it by its medical name, AMBLYOPIA in children, and PRESBYOPIA in adults.

 

But it refers to the gradual loss of eye-muscle stamina to sustain “convergence and accommodation”, when focusing on the near indoors or close up on the screen. This could be in any indoor space, less than 20ft in size, with little natural daylight.

It could be at the office, or at home.

Reading and working in these conditions leave you with tired eyes, and generally fatigued as your eyes do their best to adapt.

The eye muscles become tired and then stop working as efficiently.

Some of us will experience stress-related vision suppression over time.  Others will wake up one morning effectively monocular, living in a 2D world without depth. This is because the image from one eye has been ‘re-directed’ somewhere else, leaving the other eye dominant.

The visual system and brain process that dominant “single image”, ignoring the other fainter double image.

 

 

Then there’s Astigmatism, the suppression of the vision from one eye, with or without visible lazy eye.

Strabismus; misalignment of the eyes or unstable alignment of one eye

Asthenopia; weakness, or debility, of the eyes or vision

The list goes on and on, and you can find out more @ WHO ICD-10

Call them by their generic or medical names, but all are mirrored in Computer Vision Syndrome, more commonly known as Screen Fatigue, tired eyes and/or eyestrain.

Screen Fatigue/Computer Vision Syndrome is the name given to a cluster of symptoms that arise from looking at a digital screen for prolonged periods.

The symptoms can include eye strain, dry eyes, headaches, overall tiredness with reduced productivity, blurred vision, and often includes other musculoskeletal disorders, e.g. a sore, stiff neck, from being unable to sustain an ergonomically comfortable posture while struggling to see clearly

 

Screen fatigue is also cognitive fatigue.

The visual system has to work harder processing uncomfortable, distorted, blurred or double images, demanding more blood-oxygen as fuel to the brain to support the additional processing demand.

The more ‘close up’ work you perform, the more oxygen is required, the more fatigued you become, and round and round it goes.

It’s a thoroughly unpleasant merry go round.

28% of the population are immune from eyestrain or vision stress. Still, the rest of us, the 72% are not, and so easily succumb to visual repetitive stress fatigue and/or stress-related adaptations.

We are at a four to seven-fold increased risk of earlier onset of associated adaptations when over-exposed in early life or later to the near indoors and/or close-up at our school desks and on-screen.

China and now Instagram are seeking to introduce Exposure Control Measures, either by cutting off access to the internet after a period or having pop-ups advising “Take a Break”.

Instagram is bringing this in due to political pressure. China, for the simple fact that they are noticing 80% of students are graduating with severe myopia.

Linked to the ‘take a break’ concept is the well-known occupational health advice of the 20-20-20 rule for DSE operators (look away from your screen every 20 minutes, at something 20 feet away and for 20 seconds) when working with standard, unmitigated, inaccessible display screens that have not had their contrast optimised for the user in education or the workplace.

 

Computer Vision Syndrome is serious.

For example, in 2007, 58% of Display Screen Equipment users suffered from vision issues related to their screens.

What’s the number now, as 2021 draws to a close?

But more importantly, what can be done about it?

Sure, we put the smartphone down, look away, and take a coffee break. We all know about not being ‘online an hour before bed’, and many of us know about getting out and moving about in natural daylight – but how many of us actually do this?

But unless we adjust the screens we are looking at, we go straight back to the problem. 

It then becomes a repetitive stress injury.

 

We need to adjust our screens because colour and light play a massive role in screen fatigue and cannot be left out of the conversation.

Researchers became aware of colours and sensitivity to light in the 1960s. As more and more has come become evident, we realise that every one of us experiences colour and light differently.

 

We use light; we don’t necessarily ‘see’ it. Instead, we interpret the waves of colours that surround us individually, as we interpret the speed at which they uniquely arrive in our visual system.

One person will see glare; another will not.

One person will find dark purple hurtful for their eyes; another will not.

 

Photosensitivity is an immune system reaction triggered by sunlight, which unsurprisingly

manifests in a high degree of visual discomfort and, for some, may trigger migraine, fits or convulsions, especially when presented with flickering lights/screens or strobe lights, or even sunlight flickering through trees beside the road, depending on the speed of travel.

 

Irlen Syndrome,  first described by Helen Irlen, is a sensory disorder of how the brain interprets bright white light, whether reflected off white paper or from an illuminated background to text on-screen.

 

Visual Illusions are often created by playing with light and dark or shadows to challenge our visual perceptions and constructs of the brain’s typical or expected responses. Experience of typical images can also leave impressions on the retina interpreted as changing colours.

 

We all experience these differently, to one degree or another.

But Helen Irlen spotted a connection between visual stress and visual stress relief.

 Through trial and error, she found that existing or early-onset eyestrain when reading could be relieved by selecting the best effective contrast other than a “high contrast white” background to text. The ‘normal’ white background with black text is painful for many.

Clashing contrasts of often unnatural (as in not found in nature) colours are uncomfortable and painful for many.

Hence her coloured overlays and coloured glasses for reading, aimed at reducing glare, and thereby reducing the discomfort experienced by the brain and visual system.

Other pioneers in colour therapy, including Arnold Wilkins, have sought similar methodologies for subjectively selecting the best contrast, thereby improving reading skills and abilities.

No one should experience vision stress, discomfort or painful headaches when reading.

 

 

But this is where ScreenRisk has joined the dots but flipped the script.

We don’t do the things we are supposed to do for our health, and in 2021 our lives are run through our screens, and those screens are damaging our eyes and causing us stress.

Understanding that many visual issues are replicated in screen fatigue and understanding that we are all unique in interpreting light and colour means we need an individualised response.

Knowing that stress affects the eyesight and all parts of our body and that digital screens that we are now addicted to cause cognitive fatigue – we created the DSO.

A tool that considers all of the above and chooses the best-coloured background objectively for your eyesight and visual system, providing you with that coloured theme for your screen.

Objectively choosing means your body, not your personal colour preference, selects the optimal colour that soothes your visual system. Reducing all of the above stresses also means that you are not repeatedly self-harming when working/studying online.

 

 

The induced near or close-up indoor eyestrain and 3D vision stress, created and exacerbated by hours on-screen, where no reasonable adjustments have been made, can be mitigated.

 It’s simply a question of joining the dots as to what’s going on and then creating an app to make the eyes and visual system as comfortable as possible.

 

 

 

Do you have screen envy?

(And no, we are not talking artfully crafted zoom backgrounds or the latest, coolest green screen design, we are talking about something else, entirely.)

Years ago, I spent many hours training our outreach “Colour Therapy Practitioners” to administrate Digital Literacy Sessions.

 

This consisted of first popping the trainees on the binocular eye-trace kit, and using them(selves) as guinea pigs, they pretty quickly realised how much effort is required from their eyes / visual system to sustain, complete, or repeat the sequential, serial, fixations and saccades – essentially focussing and refocusing  –  necessary to read fluently.

 

It was experiential learning at its best.

 

Then, not only did I have converts in terms of the learned experience of what it feels like to have easier relatively stress-free access to text but, engaged learners for the remainder of the course who were far from indifferent to the outcomes and impact they potentially had on their clients.

 

That was in the early days, long before developing the technology and knowing how and/or who was competent and experienced enough to create an AI driven, online version, mirroring our practitioner lead administered Dupree ‘Display Screen Optimiser’ (DSO).

 

When I was contracted to work with a company, I was always surprised by the number of individuals participating who were convinced that they didn’t suffer vision stress or eye strain. They were adamant they were fine and were only taking part because well – take your pick, the boss said they had to, they wanted a cream bun and time away from the desk, safe from discovering anything new, or, they were open-minded, while still firmly believing they didn’t have a problem, and this really didn’t apply to them.

 

And it never failed to astonish me how many physically and emotionally reacted to finding their ‘optimal colour values’ as a more accessible and less stressful contrast to the text.

These were people that believed they had no issues working on a display screen, they believed any discomfort they were experiencing was part and parcel of work, and so had never taken steps to rectify them.  As far as they were concerned, any discomfort was normal for display screen equipment operators. They were unaware that they were self-harming.

 

This fact didn’t amaze me, it saddened me then, and still does to this day. This discomfort is often being dismissed as a temporary visual anomaly, and all will be well after a good night’s sleep.

 

So, you can imagine their surprise, as they took the test and went from not knowing how much stress they were actually under, to feeling their shoulders dropping and relaxing, their respiration and heart rates slowing, all coinciding with improved, measurable gains in accessibility or reading rate of the subject text on-screen, as we came closer and closer to their optimal colour.

 

This occurred so often, it soon became normal that post-session, over a cup of tea or as they were walking out the door, those involved would admit to not knowing how stressed they must have been and had experienced feeling butterflies in their stomach when we reached the optimal most visually comfortable colour value for them.

 

Their body knew before they did.

 

Even more surprising for them was that their optimal colour was often nowhere near their favourite colour. (Another reason why our DSO is objective.)

 

Then, of course, there were some adults who, at first presented as poor readers. Having discovered they could read fluently with the right colour contrast, they would then understandably become very angry and want to know why no one found this out when they were at school, convinced their life chances would have been significantly different had that been the case.

 

In this digital age,  which is now considered the ‘new normal’, we are so used to the conventions of dark text on a bright white background, flashing images and stark colour contrasts on websites that we naturally assume there must be something wrong with us.  If we find it visually uncomfortable, sustaining convergence and accommodation (focusing) while reading text on screen, why are we not asking is there something wrong with the screen?

This should be one of our first thoughts.

 

2021 is going to see an increase in digital use, in education and the workplace ( interesting that this Forbes article cites a safe workplace as the number 1 priority, and perhaps working from home should be included there?) But whatever the latest trends, online is very much here to stay, and this means you need to take care of your eyes.

 

Would you consider driving a new car or operating unfamiliar equipment without adapting it to your needs? Be those comfort, safety, or both. Yet nobody does this with out of the box display screen equipment, so they carry on regardless of any discomfort and then wonder why they are fatigued, depressed and have sore eyes at the end of the day.

 

Our eyes have not evolved to stare at unnatural screens all day.  They evolved for our survival in nature. For muted colours, soft lines, not harsh vertical or horizontal stripes but distant horizons and watching our hands work.

 

Out of the box digital devices need reasonable adjustments from the generic settings, and they need to be adjusted to you – you that is the unique individual reading this post.

 

You will have an optimally synchronous colour contrast that minimises vision stress for your eyes, that also reduces the associated risk of physical stress, related to the ergonomics of your working environment.

 

If you are curious about your optimal colour contrast, you can find it using the DSO – (we only charge £1 to help cover admin costs – and one doubts you could find a decent cuppa or java for that price.)

 

Due to the emotional and physical reactions I’ve observed, for our next stage of research and development, as a therapeutic tool, we are working toward including remote Biometrics Screening in combination with Binocular Eye-Tracking. At present, we are having to depend on body-worn sensors for biometrics but, we hope to achieve remote status in due course.

But here’s the ask from us and why we are only charging the price of a cheap coffee for a product that will change your life.

Your assistance with the collection of interactive anonymised data, will be highly appreciated as this data will not only be used in Proof of Concept, but will go toward getting a head start with “machine-learning”.

We won’t be selling your data to the highest bidder; we will be using it to help people read better on screen.

Would you agree to be the subject of screen envy?

 Would like to boast that your colour contrast background is unique to you, that it’s helping you mitigate the risks of screen fatigue/ computer eye strain/ computer vision syndrome (one wonders what they will call it next), and it’s helping your reading rate and giving you a wee boost in productivity – (around the 20% mark, which is not to be scoffed at).

 

Will you help us to help you, to help others?

 If it’s a yes –   Please try the DSO, then rate and share your personal experience of the DSO, that also cunningly complies with ISO 30071.1, DSE Colour Contrast Calibration –  optimising your screen ergonomics for accessibility and, mitigating the degree of risk linked to vision stress, eye-strain and visual repetitive stress injuries presenting in vision suppression, myopic or asthenopic adaptations.

We look forward to reading your reviews!