Little did I know that spending almost twelve hours a day in front of my PC monitor could potentially make me blind. That I would be getting shots in my eyes in my early 50's and be told I would have gone blind if I'd come in three weeks later.
It happened in one week. I couldn't see my face in the mirror because there was a big gray blob where my face used to be. Suddenly straight lines were crooked or broken. I thought I needed new glasses and planned to call the optometrist “soon”, with no definite future date in mind. I told a friend what was going on, and he said "Run, don't walk, to the Ophthalmologist!" which is what I did.
I was diagnosed with Age-Related Macular Degeneration. The doc told me this used to only be seen in people 70 years and older but that's changing. I was easily the youngest person in the waiting room by two decades. What I've learned: that the cumulative and constant exposure to blue light from my monitor screen did me in, and is affecting everyone. It has the potential to cause damage to the retinal cells, which is going to slowly lead to irreversible retinal cell death and can in turn lead to AMD.
Today, it's just a fact of modern life that many of us spend the majority of our waking hours staring at a digital screen. There is even a new condition actually called “Computer Vision Syndrome” with reported early symptoms as eye strain, headache, blurred vision and dry, scratchy eyes. Studies suggest that 60% of people spend more than 6 hours a day in front of a digital device. Approx. 3/4 of adults are unaware of the potential dangers of blue light to eyes.
Eye doctors are now recommending the 20/20/20 plan which addresses the time spent staring at a screen. For every 20 minutes at a screen, take a 20 second break and star at something 20 feet away. It readjusts the eye.
Another exercise is to blink more, which will increase moisture because staring at screens leads people to forget to blink, which leads to dry eyes. "Now the dry eye is almost epidemic," says Dr. Stephanie Marioneaux, a cornea specialist in Chesapeake, Va., and spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "In today's world when people are so transfixed with tablets, phones, cable TV without commercials, you're not blinking." Tiny glands in the eyelids called meibomian glands squirt oil on the surface of the eye. "Every time you blink, you get a squirt of oil, every four seconds, all day long,"
There are free apps called Iris and f.lux for monitors and phones that dim the screen based on the time of day that are very helpful. I have gotten a blue-blocking filter over my PC monitor which I recommend for everyone along with inexpensive screen protectors for phones just to be safe. Think of it as “sunscreen for your eyes” that especially protects the kids. Get the screen protectors for the kid's phones; their little arms are shorter than ours so the screens are even closer to their eyes.
The NIH National Eye Institute estimates that between 2010 and 2050, the number of AMD cases will more than double from 2.1 million to 5.2 million. While age, smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, a diet high in unsaturated fats and simple carbohydrates and lack of exercise all increase the risk of AMD, the introduction of screens with their blue light combined with the number of hours we're staring at them makes this a new risk factor that affects everyone's precious eyesight.
1/3 of adults who experience digital eye strain don't do anything to alleviate their symptoms. Macular Degeneration can happen to anyone, at anytime, and can come on fast. Vision is a blessing and I hope my story brings attention to the fact that when your eyes hurt or feel strained, dry and itchy, they are trying to tell you something, it is up to you to listen.