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Job related eye injuries requiring medical treatment are common- to the tune of 2000 every single day in the United States. Many of these injuries result in trips to the E.R. for treatment, and more than 5% result in at least one work day missed. OSHA estimates that the total annual cost of eye injuries at work is $300,000,000.
Historically, the most common types of injuries have been abrasions, foreign bodies, penetration, and burns. Abrasions and foreign bodies can result from small particles ejected by tools or other sources. High velocity objects may actually enter the eye and cause permanent damage to the vision. Burns can result from exposure to industrial chemicals and cleaning products, or from exposure to heat or intense light (welding flash).
Some diseases can be transmitted via the mucous membranes of the eye. Pink eye is the most common eye condition transmitted in the workplace.
The best defense against eye injuries at work is protective eyewear. The best defense against communicable eye diseases is good hygiene.
In today’s workplace computers are everywhere. In 2013 65 million US workers over the age of twenty-five reported some on the job computer use. Twenty-four million of those workers also reported spending time on the computer at home. A 2015 CNN report estimated that the average American adult spends 10 hours and 39 minutes each day using digital devices.
While few computer users are at risk of flying debris, the digital workplace has its own set of risks to the eyes and vision. Computer Vision Syndrome is a term developed to describe a common set of problems experienced by many computer users. The 20/20/20 rule is a simple and effective way to reduce digital eye strain.
In addition to the ergonomic and repetitive motion stresses of computer use, the monitors themselves may have an impact. It is well known that UV light exposure can cause skin and eye damage. Modern monitors do not emit UV. However, they do emit blue light.
And it not just the computers we use at work. HD TVs, Ipads, cell phones; they all emit blue light. Did you know that 60% of Americans spend at least 5 hours per day on these devices? With the onset of the digital age, we are all exposed to more blue light than ever before.
But how can that be? Sure, we spend a lot of time on our devices now, but at least we are indoors. Previous generations were out in the sun. Surely they must have been exposed to more blue light than we are, right?
Actually, no. The average portion of blue light in sunlight is 25-30%. And the old incandescent light bulbs contained about 3% blue light. But the new LED lights contain 35% blue light. And our smart phones, video games, computers, and LCD TVs have similar amounts of blue light emission.
We know UV light is harmful. It causes cataracts, skin cancer, and other eye problems. But our eye has some built in protections against UV. Our lens filters it out, so while we may get cataracts, at least our retina is protected from UV. But visible light, including blue light, gets through the lens to damage the retina.
The most dangerous blue light is the blue-violet. It is high energy. Cumulative exposure may damage the retina. But blue-turquoise light is essential for regulating our sleep/wake cycle, for memory, and for cognition. So, we need some blue light!
So how do we get the blue we need and get rid of the blue we don’t? With filters, natural and man-made, inside the eye and out.
First, we can enhance the internal protection system. Our retina protects itself from the effects of blue light. We can help it to fight that damage by increasing the carotenoids in our diet- vitamin A, or even better, lutein and zeaxanthine. They are easily found in many multivitamin formulas.
Second, we can add an external layer of protection- glasses. Many lenses are now available with tints that reduce or eliminate blue light. And many of the newest ones block only the harmful blue light while allowing the good blue light in.