College students have a lot on their mind. Between classes, exams, group projects, clubs, and late night studying—health concerns can go by the wayside in order to keep up with their fast-paced environment. Students get too little sleep, snack on unhealthy brain food, and don’t always make time for daily physical activity. But, research suggests that one of the biggest threat to students’ wellbeing may actually be their eye health.

A study performed by the National Eye Institute found that nearsightedness in Americans has risen from 25% in the 1970’s to a whopping 41%. A large reason behind this staggering increase is, you guessed it, the use of technology. The American Optometric Association has reported that the average American spends anywhere from 6-8 hours on technology each day. For college students, this number is even higher, and they can reach up to 10 hours a day looking at screens.
Prolonged, recurring exposure to blue LED light found in the screens of our computers, phones, and other tech items can cause Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). Symptoms of CVS include eye strain, red and watery eyes, headache, and neck and shoulder pain. Long term consequences of CVS can result in damaged eye physiology and vision impairment down the road. That’s why it’s so important for college students to protect their eyes from these stressful influences, so to prevent future ramifications.
Here are five ways for college students to protect their eyes from CVS and prolonged LED blue light exposure.

1. Get the right setup.

Obviously, it’s impractical to try to avoid technology and blue light all together. This is especially true for college students, since almost all note taking, homework, and studying is done on a computer or tablet. Because of this, one of the ways for college students to protect their eyes is to make sure their technology and devices are set up properly. Setting up your devices correctly can help reduce symptoms of CVS and even help eliminate some effects of blue light.
Here are some things to keep in mind when setting up for computer use:

  • Sit arm’s length away from your screen.
  • Tilt your monitor slightly upward.
  • Balance brightness of your screen with your surroundings.
  • Make font size larger.
  • Reduce screen glare.
  • Adjust color so it’s more yellow, rather than blue.
  • Sit at a table or desk and use a chair with back support.
  • Keep your feet on the floor to support neck and shoulders.

In addition to these things, try to work during the day in rooms with a lot of natural daylight, but not too much glare. Also, although it’s not always possible, try to avoid working late at night or in poorly lit rooms, as these things can contribute to eye strain in college students.

2. Take breaks.

When using technology for long periods of time, taking breaks is extremely important for not only your brain power, but also your eye health. Next time you’re studying or working on homework, give the 20-20-20 Rule a try. This means that for every 20 minutes you spend looking at a screen, you should look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Even that quick 20-second break can do wonders for your eyes in helping them feel refreshed and less strained over prolonged technology exposure.
Another good rule of thumb is for every hour you spend on technology, get up and take a 10-minute break from your screen. Stretch your legs, grab a snack, or go for a quick walk outside. These short breaks not only help college students to protect their eyes from staring at a screen for too long, they also help increase productivity.

3. Go outside.

Shutting off technology and spending time outside has many surprising benefits—such as boosted immunity, lowered levels of depression, higher rates of happiness, and even prolonged life expectancy. But, it’s also great for your eyes and decreases your chances of developing myopia.
However, as a college student, it can be hard to find time in your busy schedules to spend outside. If a hike or bike ride seems unattainable, try bringing your work outdoors! Find a favorite tree on campus to study or a picnic table in a nearby park to finish up your reading for class. Small adjustments like these are great ways for college students to protect their eyes from overexposure to technology and allow them to soak up the benefits of fresh air and natural sunlight.

4. Wear blue-light protective glasses.

Another effective way in reducing the ramifications of prolonged exposure to technology is by buying glasses with lenses designed to filter out LED blue light. A recent study found that, “retinal photodamage caused by (LED blue light) can become chronic if exposure is high and long enough. In contrast, the use of blue-blocking filters can significantly alleviate the functional loss of retinal photosensitive cells.”
In other words, extended exposure to LED blue light over long periods of time can result in chronic, long term damage to vision if not addressed. However, lenses which are specifically designed to filter out blue light from technology have been found to be extremely effective in protecting various eye cells from deteriorating or breaking down due to LED exposure.
Many optometrists today provide the option to include an LED blue light filter in the glasses they offer patients. If you currently wear glasses, ask your eye doctor about including this feature in your prescription.

5. Schedule your annual eye exam.

The most important way for college students to protect their eyes is by scheduling an annual eye exam. With the new and developing risks that accompany the rise of technology use, annual eye exams are more important than ever—especially for college-aged individuals. The American Optometric Association has found that the high rate of technology use can age eyes to age prematurely, meaning the risks of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is onsetting earlier and earlier. Therefore, coming in each year for an annual eye check is becoming even more of a necessity for younger aged patients.
Scheduling your annual eye exam for when you’re home from school for the holidays is a simple and easy way to make sure your eyes are healthy. If you have noticed worsening symptoms of CVS recently—including red, watery, stinging, or exhausted eyes, it may be a good idea to schedule an eye exam over the upcoming holidays regardless of your annual exam. The sooner you make your optometrist aware of these things, the sooner they can help you find relief and protection for your eyes.Taking these measures to ensure you are protecting your vision is imperative, especially if you are a college student. When you prioritize your eye health during a strenuous time like college, you defend yourself from the many visual impairments that can accompany long-term exposure to technology, study materials, and stressful environments. If you start protecting your vision now, you will undoubtedly thank yourself for it in the future!