Man looking at computer

A Computer Use Survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics discovered that 77 million Americans access a computer during the workday to use the internet or email. Many spend multiple hours on the computer at a time. This isn’t counting smartphones and tablet usage.

There’s no doubt about it: Screens are grabbing our attention at the workplace and beyond. Unfortunately, this all takes its toll on our eyes and ears.

A Nielsen report found that adults in the United States spent 21 hours a week using these devices. While such devices are generally safe, there are health risks to watch out for.

Screens Can Strain the Eyes

Staring at a screen, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet or computer, can cause eyestrain. It’s a common problem that 31 percent of Americans say they’ve experienced.

Eyestrain symptoms include pain around the eyes, dry eyes, blurred or double vision, and an increased sensitivity to light. These symptoms can sometimes lead to drowsiness.

The risk of eyestrain increases the longer you spend looking at screens, and extensive screen use is common. According to The Vision Council, more than 87 percent of Americans use screens for more than two hours a day.

Using computers, tablets and smartphones for more than two hours at a time increases the risk of eyestrain because of the glare of the screen and the tendency to blink less while using these devices. People tend to blink one-third as often when they are looking at screens compared with when they are doing other activities.

Eyestrain won’t cause permanent vision problems, but symptoms can be uncomfortable.

These tips can help you keep your eyes feeling their best:

  • Take a 20-second break from screens every 20 minutes, and look at something at least 20 feet away.
  • Position your computer screen at about arm’s length and slightly below your line of vision.
  • If your eyes are dry, use artificial tears.
  • Reduce or redirect lighting to limit glare. But don’t darken the room too much. If your screen is a lot brighter than the surrounding area, your eyes have to work harder.
  • Increase the text size and the contrast on your devices.
  • If you wear contact lenses, switch to your glasses occasionally.

Headphones and Hearing Loss

Listening to music, podcasts or other recordings on headphones can make your work a little more pleasurable, but it may also damage your hearing.

Listening at a high volume can especially affect your hearing, but even moderately loud sound levels can cause problems over time.

Sound travels from the outside of the ear, through the ear canal and the eardrum and vibrates the malleus, incus and stapes, which then send the sound to the cochlea. The cochlea has many tiny hair cells that vibrate in response to the sound and turn that vibration into an electrical response that travels to the brain. These cochlear hair cells get damaged from too much sound or from being exposed to sound for too long, so that they can’t transmit the sound anymore. Once damaged, they cannot grow back.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery reports that 10 million Americans have irreversible noise-induced hearing loss, and 30 million are exposed to dangerous noise levels daily.

Loud sounds can sometimes cause pain or ringing in your ears. But even if you’re not noticing any symptoms, you can still be damaging your hearing.

These tips can help you maintain your hearing while enjoying your favorite songs:

  • Turn the volume as low as you can while still hearing the music.
  • Limit the time you spend using headphones.
  • Choose over-the-ear headphones rather than earbuds.
  • Use noise-canceling headphones.
  • Limit the maximum volume on your device, if possible. Many phones offer this option.

Concerned about your technology usage?

Talk to a doctor today.