Headaches, blurred vision and dry, irritated, tired eyes.

Each is a symptom of digital eye strain; the result of spending too much time in front of smartphone, tablet, computer or television screens.

While the effects are generally temporary, preliminary research now suggests that too much screen time can lead to serious vision problems later in life.

Consistent exposure to the high-energy visible or blue light emitted from digital screens may be linked to long-term issues such as age-related macular degeneration – which the Canadian National Institute for the Blind says is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in Canada – as well as cataracts, which affects about 2.5 million Canadians, according to a 2016 Digital Eye Strain Report by The Vision Council.

“Research is still emerging on the long-term effects of digital eye strain and how our vision will adapt to our new-found habits,” says Mike Daley, chief executive officer of The Vision Council.

“Patients who suffer from the irritating and painful symptoms of digital eye strain should talk to their eye-care provider about their digital device habits to determine how best to protect their eyes.”

The Vision Council report, entitled Eyes Overexposed: The Digital Device Dilemma, includes data that confirms what most Canadians have believed to be true – our population is constantly connected and relies heavily on digital devices for day-to-day tasks.

In fact, a VisionWatch survey of 10,000 adults, found that about 90 per cent of people use digital devices for two or more hours each day, while 60 per cent are looking at a screen for at least five hours a day and one in 10 people spend at least three-fourths of their waking hours on a digital device.

Meanwhile, about 65 per cent of people experience eye strain and discomfort after prolonged use of digital devices, the report says.

“We’re seeing that younger generations, those that have had their lives shaped by technology from a young age, are experiencing higher rates of eye strain,” Daley says.

Digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome, is linked to exposure to high-energy visible or blue light from video screens. Emerging research suggests “cumulative and constant exposure to blue light emitted from back-lit displays can damage retinal cells,” likely because of how deep blue light penetrates the eye, the report says.

Digital eye strain can be made worse by spending more time looking at screens or by viewing devices like cell phones, computers or televisions too close.

About 95 per cent of the respondents who experience digital eye strain reported using use digital devices for two or more hours each day. And more than 75 per cent of those people use two or more devices at a time, the report says.

“Most startling,” according to Daley, “is that 90 per cent of adults don’t talk to their eye-care provider about their digital device use, even though there are ways to alleviate this strain through computer eyewear and adjusted work spaces.”

The Vision Council recommends people talk to the eye care professionals about their digital habits and the options available to reduce strain.

“When using technology, many people think suffering with digital eye strain is unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to be,” Daley says. “The optical industry has responded to the shift in digital habits and has developed lens technology to protect eyes from blue light, glare and other environmental stressors.”

Lenses are available, for example, that can filter out blue light, which, along with causing eye strain and fatigue, can impact a person’s sleep.

There are also lens treatments and filters available that can reduce glare and reflection from digital screens and block high-energy visible light.

Consumers can also purchase lenses that offer better viewing areas for computer distance.

The Canadian Association of Optometrists agrees that people should discuss their digital viewing habits with their eye doctor, so they can determine if computer vision syndrome is causing eye strain symptoms or “if ocular discomfort is the result of a more serious vision or health problem.”

The CAO has listed several ways to reduce the risk of digital eye strain.

They suggest: positioning computer screens about an arm’s length from the eyes and 20 degrees below eye level, matching the brightness of the screen to match the surroundings, minimizing screen glare by dimming the lights in the room and using an anti-glare screen if possible, using the 20-20-20 rule to give the eyes a break.

Every 20 minutes take a 20 second break and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away, and remembering to blink while using a digital device.