The effect of eye strain on students.

Photo by Andrea Marie Tan
Photo by Andrea Marie Tan

Between dense course readings and endless studying, students are faced with numerous health problems. One of the most common, yet underappreciated, issues is eye strain – a condition that can result in fatigue, pain, blurred vision, headaches, and double vision. Thanks to the relentless demands of university life, students are particularly prone to eye strain. The eternity spent reading tiny textbook fonts and skimming through journal articles has significant health detriments.

According to a study, a version of eye strain known as “Computer Vision Syndrome” (CVS) was found to affect approximately 80% of engineering and medical students. Extrapolating these results to students and faculty at UBC may suggest that the majority of people on campus face serious eye strain problems. Research has also suggested that CVS affects 90 percent of people who spend at least three hours a day on a computer. However, students in particular spend significantly more time on the computer (writing essays and reviewing lecture notes) compared to the general population.

The negative effects of eye strain are not specific to the ocular region. The high level of focus and intensity that is required in certain tasks can cause muscles to clench and headaches to form. This discomfort can lead to increased stress levels that can aggravate other illnesses. Since stress has a negative impact on school performance, the extent of eye strain is especially significant for students. Furthermore, the harmful blue light that is emitted by screens can actually increase the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. This is basically just an extravagant way of describing serious vision loss.

One way to prevent eye strain involves a fancy-sounding concept called “Harmon distance.” This distance is defined as the space between the center of the middle knuckle and the center of the elbow (approximately 40 cm). The concept argues that activities requiring close-range focus, such as looking at a computer screen or reading a book, should occur at this distance.

Another way to avoid eye strain is described by ophthalmology professor Dr. Zaina Al-Mohtaseb in her “20/20/20” rule. Al-Mohtaseb suggests that for every 20 minutes spent looking at a computer or phone, one should look at least 20 feet away for approximately 20 seconds. This can help to change the focal point and reduce strain by stretching the lens - it’s basically yoga for your eyes!

If you follow these eye-opening suggestions, next semester can reduce eye strain and improve overall health for years to come.