Getting More Headaches Lately? This Could Be Why
If you’ve been spending more time in front of screens than usual, welcome to the club. COVID’s got lots of us checking the news cycle constantly in order to stay updated, scrolling through our social media feeds way more often, and diving into more TV shows and movies more than usual since we’re not going out like we used to. Turns out, all this had led to an uptick in what experts call “digital headache.” These obviously occurred way before the pandemic, but it’s affecting more people than ever before.
The DL on Digital Headaches
The term “digital headache” is basically slang for a (now kind of outdated) medical term referred to as “Computer Vision Syndrome.” The idea is that when we look at screens for long periods of time (hello, #allofus) we stop blinking as much as we ought to, and our eyes get dried out.
In addition to dry eyes, other common symptoms of digital eye strain include tired, itchy, or watery eyes, blurred vision, increased light sensitivity, difficulty concentrating, and neck and shoulder pain. Before you know it – bam! – you’ve got a massive headache to deal with.
“With more people working from home during the pandemic, they’re spending more time in front of their screens with fewer and shorter breaks between uses. As a result, many more patients have been reporting digital headaches, increased sensitivity to light, and difficulty concentrating,” says Dr. Ashley Katsikos, a board-certified optometrist and Fellow of the American Academy of Ophthalmology at Golden Gate Eye Associates.
In other words: you’re not alone!
How to Prevent Digital Headaches
We live in the 21st century, the era of all things digital. So how, exactly, are we supposed to deal with this whole digital headache thing and still live our lives? You’ve got some options.
1. Follow the 30-30-30 Rule
“On average, a person blinks 33% less when looking at digital screens of any kind. I always tell my patients about the ‘30-30-30 rule.’ Every 30 minutes take 30 seconds to look 30 feet out into the distance. You’ll naturally blink more than you would when looking at the screen, which gives your eyes a chance to rehydrate and relax,” says Dr. Katsikos.
In addition to the 30-30-30 rule, it’s a good idea to walk away from screens completely for at least five to 10 minutes at a time throughout the workday. Also, strive to take hours-long breaks in the evening. This will give your eyes even more time to recover and really help with your headaches.
2. Check Your Posture
Spending a lot of time in front of screens can cause us to sacrifice good posture, notes Dr. Daniel Devine, a board-certified internist and co-founder of Devine Concierge Medicine. He says, “Hunching over can create strain on the neck muscles which manifests as headaches. Making sure you sit up straight while using a computer or smartphone can help prevent this potential cause of headaches.” Really take advantage of those five to 10-minute breaks by stretching and consider investing in an office chair that helps maintain good posture throughout the day.
3. Try Blue Light Glasses
Nope – they’re not a gimmick. Blue light glasses can actually help alleviate digital eye strain by blocking out the blue portion of the UV spectrum. “Due to its short, high-energy wavelength, blue light creates a glare, which is one of the leading causes of eye strain,” notes Dr. Katsikos. “Prolonged exposure to blue light can cause retinal damage and result in age-related macular degeneration.” Another pro-tip is to adjust the color on your devices so it’s more yellow leaning than blue.
4. Adjust Your Screens
A few small tweaks can a major difference in relieving eye strain. Start by changing the brightness of your screen. “Specifically, at night, switching to a ‘night-mode’ where the background is black and the text is white is helpful,” notes Dr. Devine.
Another easy fix is to make sure the viewing distance between your eyes and device is between 20 to 28 inches. Dr. Katsikos says, “If this isn’t possible, then you may need to adjust your screen’s font size. You can also modify the angle of your screen to reduce eye strain. Our screen should be 15 to 20 degrees – or about four to five inches below eye level – from the center of the screen.”
The Best Treatment for Digital Headaches
Digital headaches can be treated similarly to other headaches. An over-the-counter pain reliever – like aspirin or ibuprofen – can help. Stretching can also help with cramped muscles and upping your H20 intake (and using eye drops) can help with dry eyes.
If you’re battling really awful headaches and digital eye strain despite following the above tips, Dr. Katsikos recommends reaching out to an ophthalmologist. Your doctor will probably want to schedule an eye exam to determine what’s going on, and from there can provide you with a customized treatment plan.