Looking each other in the eye can save your relationship and your eyes

Optometry Australia has applauded SBS’s riveting series Look Me in the Eye, which premiered recently.

I hope the series, in which estranged loved ones are made to look into each other’s eyes for five minutes, will encourage Australians to put down their screens and reconnect – for the sake of their relationships and their eye health.

Optometrists are no strangers to looking people in the eye. Increasingly, we are finding patients presenting with digital eye strain due to overuse of digital devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Symptoms of digital eye strain, such as dry, irritated eyes, blurred vision, neck and back pain and headaches, are increasingly reducing our quality of life. It’s not a problem we should simply be getting used to.

The observations of local optometrists are reflected in a recent US report by The Vision Council, Eyes Overexposed: Digital Device Dilemma, which found digital eye strain was the new normal, particularly among younger generations.

Nearly nine out of 10 millennials (87 per cent) in their twenties used two or more devices simultaneously and 73 per cent reported symptoms of digital eye strain.

Sixty-six per cent of people in their forties experienced digital eye strain, which was exacerbated by needing to focus on multiple devices at various distances to counteract presbyopia -- the normal loss of near-focusing which is first noticed by this age group.

Proximity of the screen, the frequency and duration of use and levels of blue light exposure are all factors you should be discussing with your optometrist.

For most of us, our eyes prefer to focus further than six metres away, so viewing a computer screen forces the muscles in our eyes to work harder. Often the type we are viewing on a digital device can be small or unclear, and glare is emitted off the screen. Also, while it’s normal for us to blink about 15 times a minute, studies have shown that we blink far less often while using digital devices leading to dry eye symptoms.

We can no longer afford to look away from the country’s digital eye strain epidemic. It may be the new norm, but it shouldn’t be. If a TV show prompts us to appreciate our eyes, to look away from our phones, and reconnect with our loved ones face to face, then that’s a win for eye health.

Screen time ruins your relationships

A US study found three quarters of women in long-term relationships felt smartphones interfered with their relationship. Sixty-two per cent of women who were surveyed also said technology interfered with their free time together.

On the other hand, a UK study, in which subjects who engaged in mutual gaze with a stranger for two minutes reported significantly increased feelings of passionate love.

Optometry Australia’s message to an addicted country

According to the Digital Australia: State of the Nation 2015–16 report, 31 per cent of Australians say they are ‘addicted’ to their smartphone or tablet.

A 2016 Ernst & Young digital study reported Australians who own a connected digital device spend on average 10 hours a day in front of digital screens.

In a bid to reduce the prevalence of digital eye strain, Optometry Australia recently launched a consumer awareness video, to drive home the message: give your eyes a break.

Optometry Australia advises taking regular breaks using the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away (six metres), for at least 20 seconds.

See your optometrist

Backed by neuroscience, SBS’s Look Me In The Eye series proves eyes are indeed windows to the soul, communicating so much more than words.

Aren’t your eyes, and your relationships, worth saving?

Common conditions such as myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism or presbyopia can exacerbate eye strain so ensure you have regular eye examinations with your optometrist to maintain good vision, for life. Your optometrist can discuss with you the lifestyle factors and screen habits which may be contributing to digital eye strain.

2 thoughts on “Looking each other in the eye can save your relationship and your eyes

  1. Hello

    I accidentally landed here, looking for an optometrist.

    When a child, 60’s and 70’s, mum always said we had to sit well back from the TV, as we could hurt our eyes if too close.

    My grandchildren sit/stand 1 to 2 metres away from the screen while watching TV, dvd’s and also while playing games (using the TV screen). They also play digital games, DS and tablets. They tend to hold them close, varying 20cm to 30cm, but at times as close as 10cm to 15cm.

    I am concerned for their eye health. Is there any problem with such closeness to the screens, especially the TV? I try to get them to move to the couch, a good 4 metres away, but they go back, as that is what they are used to.

    I’m not sure if you reply to queries or not. Thanks anyway

    1. Good Vision For Life

      Hi Maxine

      In the 60s and 70s there were other issues as well including radiation emitted from the old CRT screens, but it’s still a good idea to get the kids to sit back from the TV (4m is fine) and not to hold hand-held screens too close. The closer the object we focus on, the harder our focussing muscles have to work, so it is not ideal to spend long periods of time exerting sustained focussing effort as it can lead to sore, tired eyes and headaches.

      For books and hand-held devices the tip I find that helps when talking to kids is to get them to make a fist, stick that on their chin and then put the book/tablet on their elbow. Tell them not to hold these items any closer than this when reading / playing. It’s also a good idea to encourage regular breaks – we recommend the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, they should look up and away at something 20 feet away (6m) for 20 seconds. This gives those focussing muscles a chance to relax. Younger kids need a break every 40 minutes or so where they get up and do something different for a few minutes.

      And with the growing body of evidence linking myopia (shortsightedness) to not spending enough time outside (we have a separate story on this here: http://goodvisionforlife.com.au/2016/08/04/hour-day-keeps-myopia-bay/), we also encourage a balance between ‘screen time and green time’.
      Kids need to be spending 2 hours a day (of sun-safe) time outside.

      Luke Arundel
      Resident Optometrist
      Optometry Australia

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