‘Zoom fatigue’ and digital eye strain
Digital eye strain has been an emerging public health concern over the last 10 years with studies showing that over 85% of digital device users experience either ocular or non-ocular symptoms of digital eye strain. This condition is characterized by visual disturbance and/or ocular discomfort related to the use of digital devices such as smartphones, iPads, computers and laptops. Ocular symptoms of digital eye strain include tearing, tired eyes, blurred vision, general fatigue, burning sensation, redness and double vision. Non-ocular symptoms include stiff neck, general fatigue, headache and backache.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted – amongst other things – in substantial changes to business practices around the world. One of the major transformations has been that a very high proportion of people are now working from home with meetings being conducted over the internet using virtual platforms such as Zoom, Webex and Microsoft Teams. Understandably this has led to a marked increase in the use of digital devices with the result that there has been a dramatic upsurge in the number of people experiencing symptoms of digital eye strain, such that the term ‘zoom fatigue’ has been coined to describe this phenomenon.
Prevention is the main strategy for management of digital eye strain. Even if the individual is working from home, ergonomic issues still need to be addressed. Many studies suggest that ergonomic practices could be important for management of digital eye strain. These include the use of appropriate lighting (both natural and artificial where applicable), careful positioning of the digital device with respect to eye level and head posture, and manipulation of image parameters (resolution, text size, contrast and luminance) on the digital device.
It is also highly recommended that anyone who is suffering from digital eye strain should have a comprehensive eye examination. The reason for this is twofold. First, a complete optometric assessment may detect any underlying eye problems that may be causing – or contributing to – the digital eye strain. Possible eye problems include uncorrected refractive error (such as astigmatism, long sightedness and presbyopia), vergence and accommodation anomalies, and blinking or dry eye problems. Secondly, the appropriate management or treatment can then be provided depending on the underlying disorder.
For patients requiring spectacle correction, there are many options available including extended focus reading and anti-fatigue glasses. These glasses allow people who don’t have a sufficient clear range of vision in single vision reading glasses to easily change focus between their computer screen (most commonly at a working distance of 50-60 cm) and paperwork on their desk (for which the working distance is generally about 30-40 cm). Spectacles can also be prescribed with coloured filters to help minimize ocular symptoms and also help protect the eyes; the most popular in this regard are the blue-blocking lenses (or BBLs) that block blue light – found in electronic devices such as televisions, smartphones, computer and laptops and iPads – and provide retinal protection from prolonged exposure to blue light over time. For people with dry eye problems, artificial tears and/or ocular lubricants can be prescribed.