DESPITE the promised gradual easing of restrictions, our home offices look set to remain for some time yet — and with it, the associated eyesight problems. Dr Hilary Jones looks at how digital devices affect our eyes and what can be done.
As the government unveils plans for a partial easing of lockdown throughout March, we’ve been living with restrictions in some form for almost a year. During this time, according to Google Trends data, searches for ‘dry eyes’ are up by over 180% in England.
Whilst ‘2020’ is usually associated with excellent vision, the year itself has been anything but for our eyes. Research by The College of Optometrists revealed that 22% have reported worsening vision during the lockdown.
It should come as no surprise why — many of us have been fixated on our digital devices, with screen time as high as it’s ever been before. Normally, we blink 15–20 times per minute, spreading tears over our eyeballs. When we use digital devices or watch television, our blink rate is reduced by 66%. This can lead to dry, irritated eyes.
Dr Hilary Jones MBE is a General Practitioner and ambassador for Huddersfield-based health and hygiene specialists, The Body Doctor. He suggests that regular, short breaks from our screens go a very long way to averting eye strain.
Dr Hilary said: “The pandemic has necessitated working from home for millions of people over the last year and this has coincided with a significant increase in symptoms related to dry eye syndrome.
“Internet searches for dry eyes are up 180% in the last 12 months. Dry eye syndrome was already the commonest eye condition of all, leading to irritable, dry, red, flaky eyelids and gritty eyes.
“Research has shown that working on digital screens reduces the eye’s blink rate by 66% and each blink whilst working at a computer is less efficient in keeping the cornea lubricated and able to remove debris.
“The function of the oil-producing meibomian glands in the eyelids is critical to preserving a healthy tear film and there are simple steps one can take to maintain this. Taking frequent breaks away from the computer is important. The effect of central heating and air-conditioning can be mitigated by the use of humidifiers.
“Fortunately, there is no strong evidence that dry eye syndrome results in long-term damage to our eyesight and does not cause structural changes to the eye.”
Many optical health experts have recommended following the 20-20-20 rule — for every 20 minutes of screen time, spend 20 seconds looking at something that is at least 20 metres away.