What are screens doing to our eyes?

It's virtually impossible to get through the day without looking at a screen.

Dr. Manveen Bedi 4 minute read February 10, 2021
eye health

Routine eye examinations are crucial in the early diagnosis and management of eye conditions. Getty

Staring at a screen has become a regular part of our daily lives. Whether it’s a phone, tablet, or computer, we are relying on technology like more than ever — especially during a pandemic that has many of us working from home while our kids pass their days in online school. And while these measures are a part of reducing the spread of the virus, essentially keeping us safe, the collateral damage is far-reaching, including the impact on eye health. So if you are experiencing eye strain, fatigue, or dry eyes, you are not alone.

Tired eyes

One of the most common symptoms of excessive screen time is visual fatigue. In my clinic, I have noticed a lot more complaints of eye strain since the COVID-19 pandemic began, with patients describing tired eyes, “sand-in-the-eye feeling,” burning sensations, tearing, and headaches. There are many reasons for this.

A normal blink rate is 12 to 15 blinks per minute. However, when we are focusing on near-activity tasks, like playing video games or computer work, our blink rate reduces significantly. This can disturb tear film distribution and cause dry eye symptoms, such as irritation, redness, a burning sensation, the feeling like there is something in your eye, and tearing.

These near-activity tasks pose a special risk of myopia progression — nearsightedness — among children. We already know from several research studies that myopia progression has been linked with increased screen time, decreased time spent outdoors, and genetic predisposition. And with the pandemic’s increased use of screen time, there is a growing concern that we may be see more cases of myopia, and more prescriptions for glasses.

Eye hygiene

Our eyes were not designed to focus on screens for prolonged periods of time. But there are ways to prevent eye strain and maintain ocular health. Of course the top one is limiting screen time, however, this may not be an easy task. Still, there are other ways to be kinder to your eyes.

The 20/20/20 rule

The 20/20/20 rule means that for every 20 minutes of staring at a computer or phone, take a 20 second break, cast your gaze 20 feet away and blink a few times. Shifting focus from your screens every 20 mins and looking at distant objects helps the eyes relax. Blinking helps replenish the tear film and prevents dryness. Using some preservative-free artificial tears can supplement the tear film and also help with tear film stability.

Light and posture

It is important to maintain a good working posture and lighting when working with computers to prevent eye strain and neck pain. Try to maintain an arm’s length distance (approximately 25 inches) from the computer screen with your monitor at or slightly below eye level. Ensure the room has enough lighting and adjust the brightness of your digital devices to match ambient lighting in the room. One important tip is refraining from using digital devices 30 minutes to an hour before bed to ensure a good sleep cycle.

Children should have limited screen time outside of school, and incorporate outdoor activities to get a break from digital devices. Both spending time outdoors and less time on screen can help reduce eye strain and they can slow down myopic shifts.

Get them checked

Lastly, routine eye examinations are crucial in the early diagnosis and management of eye conditions. Some people require targeted therapies to help alleviate their symptoms. There are several treatments that can help in managing dry eyes including lubrication, heat compresses, medications, and other advanced procedures. Similarly, there is a lot of research evidence that supports myopia control therapies, including eye drops, specialty contact lenses, and myopia control glasses.

While screens are involved in just about every part of our lives, with a little effort and a few strategies, if we can reduce the time we spend staring at them today, our eyes will be healthier in the future.

Dr. Manveen Bedi is a Brampton, Ontario-based optometrist who focuses on specialty contact lens fitting for corneal pathologies, aphakia, and prosthetics as well as myopia control and dry eyes. She can be reached at info@drmbedi.com or 647-478-7474.


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