Is our technology addiction damaging our eyes?
Most of us who spend long hours staring at a computer screen or a smartphone screen inevitably complain of headaches, eyestrain, dry eyes, blurred vision, and difficulty focusing.
Now, the American Optometric Association (AOA) has given these symptoms a name: computer vision syndrome.
Also known as digital eye strain, “computer vision syndrome describes a group of eye conditions and vision-related problems that result from prolonged tablet, e-reader and cell phone use.”
Screen glare, poor lighting, and improper viewing distances can exacerbate computer vision syndrome. While correcting some of these problems (such as adjusting screen brightness settings) can help, as long as our technology addiction continues, we may be setting ourselves up for vision problems. Should businesses be doing more to protect their employees’ vision?
Computer Vision Syndrome: What Should Businesses Do to Protect Employees?
Fundamentally, viewing a computer screen or other digital screen—smartphones, tablets, e-readers, etc.—is different than reading a printed page. The letters on a computer screen are not as sharply defined as the letters on a printed page.
Add in the presence of a glare or contrast problems, and it can be more difficult to clearly distinguish each word. Viewing distances and angles for screens are also different than those for a book or pen and paper; consequently our eyes suffer from additional strain.
Here in the United States, few legal guidelines exist for businesses surrounding the use of computers and protecting employees from potential vision problems.
While most vision symptoms experienced by a computer user is only temporary and will decline after he or she stops using the digital device, stepping away entirely from our computers and smartphones isn’t truly an option for most employees.
Across the pond, the United Kingdom mandate businesses pay for eye tests if employees use computer screens, although the UK-based Vision Express says that corporate vision benefits are still lacking.
“Legally businesses are required to cover the cost of eye tests for employees who are using a computer, but corporate vision benefits don’t always extend beyond these basic tests. Employers are also required to pay for spectacles which are solely for VDU (Visual Display Unit) use,” says Omar Hassan, Head of Professional Services at Vision Express.
Do the U.S. and the UK See Eye-to-Eye on Corporate Eye Care?
In the United States, vision insurance is not covered under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Since vision coverage is not a mandatory benefit, many companies do not offer ancillary vision benefits. A 2008 Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that only 19 percent of large employers offer a vision plan. Two out of every three Americans are affected by vision problems. Unfortunately, there seems to be a belief that vision coverage simply is not worth offering.
Historically, U.S.-based businesses covered vision care through their health insurance plans. When rates started to skyrocket in the last decade, however, many businesses were forced to drop full coverage benefits or offer vision coverage as an ancillary benefit and then pass the cost on to employees.
While corporate vision benefits are generally better in the UK, companies on both sides of the pond could do more to protect employee vision.
In both the US and the UK, guidelines recommend regular eye tests, at least every two years; sometimes more frequently depending on an individual’s risk factors. These tests screen for well-known vision problems such as near-sightedness and far-sightedness, as well as more serious vision issues such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration, all of which can lead to blindness.
Screening tests are not free in the United States unless offered as an insurance benefit. In the UK, the NHS only offers free vision screenings to certain eligible groups, leaving private insurance or corporate eye care to pick up the rest of the tab.
Related Article: 6 Ways to Prevent Employee Burnout
If you use a computer or smartphone for extended periods each day, it’s important to be proactive about protecting your vision even if you must pay out of pocket for a vision screening. At-home care starts with taking regular breaks from the screen.
The AOA recommends taking a vision rest break every 20 minutes. Adjusting lighting to avoid glare, especially from overhead lights, can help, or try using an anti-glare screen. Blinking also helps to keep the eyes moist. With our “addiction to screens” showing no signs of slowing down, and vision care benefits in flux on both sides of the pond, taking steps now to protect your vision is critical.