By Kimberly Riordan, O.D.
In the era of COVID-19, we’ve taken our lives online in many ways—but this new shift is having unintended consequences for our eyes.
According to a poll commissioned by Vision Direct, the average person in the U.S. is spending over 13 hours a day looking at screens right now, from binge-watching to working or taking classes from home. That’s a jump from 10 hours a day reported at the end of 2019. And, families are watching about nine more hours of TV a week than before, according to Comcast. All these hours in front of screens add up to overtime work for our eyes. That can lead to eye strain and more dry eye symptoms, like blurred vision, burning eyes, and contact lens intolerance.
Don’t let dry eye get in the way of your new digital day-to-day routine. Protect your eyes while enjoying all the benefits digital learning, working and entertainment have to offer.
DRY EYE AND DIGITAL EYE STRAIN
Studies show that when we look at a screen, we don’t blink as much. In fact, we blink up to 66 percent less, according to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. This is a problem for our eyes, because blinking helps spread tears and keep our eyes hydrated. When we blink less, tears evaporate faster, causing our eyes to dry out. The bright screen reflecting onto our eyes can also contribute to dryness.
For people who may already have dry eye, this can really worsen symptoms. You might experience blurred vision, stinging, burning, or a scratching sensation in the eyes. Eye redness, eye fatigue and contact lens intolerance are also common. You might find yourself squinting more at the end of the day. This is because when eyes are drier, they get tired more quickly.
TIPS FOR PREVENTING EYE STRAIN
There are a few things to be mindful of while we’re all spending more time at home and in front of screens. First, make sure you allow your eyes time to rest. Remember the 20-20-20 rule: For every 20 minutes of screen time, look away from your screen. Focus on something at least 20 feet away for around 20 seconds. Giving your eyes this well-deserved break will help reduce strain and eye fatigue. Taking a walk where you can stretch your body while you rest your eyes is a nice option, too.
Keep in mind the position of your computer as well. It’s best to position the screen away from a window, to avoid extra glare. Make sure you’re looking level or slightly down at a computer screen. If your screen is too high, looking up may expose your eyes to more air, reducing tear production and drying eyes out more easily. Also, try adjusting the brightness of your monitor. When the screen is too bright, it can strain your eyes. Certain “night” settings may automatically dim the screen and apply a warmer tone that might be easier on your eyes.
DRY EYE TREATMENT
All year-round, you can use store-bought hydrating eye drops to help keep the symptoms of dry eye at bay. However, for those who still experience symptoms after using store-bought or medicated eye drops, a visit to an eye doctor may be needed. Getting the right treatment is key to stopping the progress of dry eye condition. Options include artificial tears, gels, eye drops or plugs inserted in the tear ducts. A treatment we offer at Florida Eye Specialists is LipiFlow Thermal Pulsation, which uses warm temperature and gentle massaging to open blocked glands.
We’re all adjusting to a new, more digital life. But that doesn’t mean our eyes have to suffer. If you’re still experiencing symptoms of dry eye, make an appointment with a medical professional. Your dry eye specialist will help you determine the cause of your dry eye and come up with a custom-tailored treatment plan just for you.
Kimberly Riordan, O.D., is the Dry Eye Center Lead at Florida Eye Specialists, and she practices part-time out of the Ponte Vedra office. For more information about the Florida Eye Specialists Dry Eye Center, visit FloridaEyeSpecialists.com/Dry-Eye-Center.
Column drafted for Florida Eye Specialists and published in the Ponte Vedra Recorder. The column can be found here.