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Living in an increasingly digital age, bright screens from our devices have become our interface with the world.

Whether its through using laptops, tablets and cellphones, digital device usage is soaring, impacting upon eye health.

According to a new international survey carried out by Norvatis and Johns Hopkins University, most consumers have never heard of digital eye strain.

In the consumer survey concerning the use of digital devices and their impact on eye health and long-term vision, prolonged use of digital devices resulted in symptoms such as irritated eyes, blurred vision, eye fatigue and headaches.

About 6 000 people from SA, the US, Australia, Brazil, China, Poland and the UK took part in the online survey. Many participants experienced symptoms after staring at screens for just two hours.

Conversely, the survey revealed that most respondents (64%) were unfamiliar with eye strain symptoms caused by digital screens and were not concerned about the effects of prolonged device usage.

Locally, research has found that people may not even be aware that they are suffering from signs of dry eye. A study among black and Indian university students aged 18-30 in KwaZulu-Natal found that 81% of the subjects had clinical signs of dry eye, although only 41% reported symptoms of it.

The study noted that the students were likely more predisposed than average to dry-eye risk factors, such as working in air-conditioned environments and undertaking long-duration, close-up tasks.

Nicola Lister, chief scientific officer and medical director at Norvatis said: “Prolonged screen time can increase eye discomfort, causing dry or irritated eyes and eye fatigue ... there is a need to create awareness of the long-term effects that increased usage of digital devices have on the eyes.”

Studies have shown that extended usage of digital devices may cause changes in blinking patterns, leading to a higher prevalence of dry eye.

Blink rates decrease by about 40 to 60 percent.

A normal blink rate is 10 to 16 blinks per minute, however during device usage, this decreases to five to nine blinks per minute.

Key findings include:

* 51% of global consumers say their digital device usage has increased from the previous year.

* Headaches were the most common reported symptom after extended device usage, with 55% of users reporting this.

* 64% of global consumers have to use digital devices for four or more hours per day.

* (74%) say their employers do not offer any kind of education to minimise digital eye strain.