Eyes struggle in digital lifestyle

(WMAQ/NBC) - People's eyes are getting a work out staring at the many screens that are part of a digital lifestyle.

A recent study found that nine out of 10 Americans report problems with eye strain.

When patients complain of blurred vision, headaches, even back and shoulder soreness, it's because as they focus intently for hours, they don't realize they've stopped doing something vitally important, ophthalmologist Elmer Tu said.

"What's happening is your eyes don't blink as often," Tu said. "And if you leave eyes open for longer periods of time, little dry spots and dry areas will develop, and those will become enflamed and that's where irritation comes from."

Most of us blink up to 20 times a minute, but sit down at a computer, get really focused, and your blinking may go down to half of that rate.

"So the less you blink, the more eye strain you feel," Tu said.

The good news is that it's not permanent damage, and there's something you can do about it.

If you wear glasses, for example, Dr. Tu recommends asking for a prescription geared to computer users. Bigger text and good lighting also helps.

Eye specialists also recommend using the "20-20-20" rule. Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

"Basically, you want to look at something you don't have to put an effort into looking at, and with help, it's really to allow it to relax," Tu said.

The bottom line is that eye strain is largely a product of our own technological advancements. We've never strained our eyes for so long, on so many screens, and the screens are here to stay.

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