Are You Experiencing More Eye Strain Than Ever Before? The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Likely the Cause
You have spent the last six months largely indoors—and, for many of us, that has correlated to increased screen time. Between hunching over laptops during the workday and scrolling mindlessly at night, you may have noticed some changes in your vision. You're not alone. But it's important to take control of the problem, since an unhealthy level of screen time can lead to eye strain and fatigue, dryness and irritation, loss of focus, nearsightedness, and even retinal damage. To learn more about these ailments—and to uncover specifically how quarantine life plays a role—we chatted with two optometrists. Ahead, discover why they say eye strain is so common during this unprecedented time, plus how to prevent it from occurring (or reoccurring).
The Connection Between Quarantine and Eye Strain
Eye strain as a result of screen time is nothing new—it's been a largely debated topic over the past five years. Countless studies have focused on the point that screen time becomes damaging, who it's most damaging to, and whether or not it is reversible. According to Dr. Michele Andrews, an optometrist and senior director of North America Professional and Academic Affairs at CooperVision, digital eye fatigue (or computer vision syndrome) can start after as little as two hours on just about any device, from a desktop or laptop to a tablet or phone.
Eye strain is top of mind now because we're spending more time at home and logging more hours online—whether for work, virtual meetings, or digital happy hours (don't forget that most of our socializing happens through a screen now, too). As a result, when it comes time to take a step back from or shut down our screens, it becomes difficult to see things in the distance (even the not-so-far distance!). The reason for this? When your eyes become hyper-focused on an object too close to your face for a long period of time, fatigue sets in and makes seeing further more challenging. Fortunately, this doesn't mean that your vision has permanently declined—there is a solution.
The 20-20-20 Rule
Optometrist Dr. Dorothy L. Hitchmoth explains that the most common way to reduce eye strain is to abide by the 20-20-20 rule. "Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds," she instructs. "This gives your eyes a break and helps them refocus." Dr. Hitchmoth, who is also an EyePromise Scientific Advisory Board member, adds that the way you set up your workspace can also help mitigate discomfort. "Setting up an environment around your screen-based devices can also be extremely beneficial," she explains. "Everyone should try to work with their screen at arm's length and just below eye level. Keep room lighting similar to the brightness of the screen and the screen free of glare."
Blue Light and Macular Pigment
Dimming your devices and effectively minimizing the amount of blue light your eyes are exposed to can also reduce eye fatigue, she continues: "You can do this by changing the color settings of the screen, using screen protectors, or wearing blue light glasses." While there are no long-term studies that prove blue light causes vision loss, there are many implicating these rays as contributing factors in the development of macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of vision loss in people over 65, adds Dr. Hitchmoth. Building up your macular pigment, which resides in your retina and absorbs harmful blue light, then, is more important than ever; do so by eating lots of brightly-colored fruits and vegetables and leafy greens. "Most Americans simply do not come close to meeting the minimum recommendation for vegetables and fruits in a day, so many eye doctors recommend supplementation with an eye vitamin to help bridge this gap," she says, noting that EyePromise ScreenShield Pro (from $35.99, eyepromise.com) is particularly effective.