Young teenager rubbing her sore eyes after working on computer Milkos

Quarantine = More Screen Time = Sore Eyes

While staying at home from work and school is often the best option for maintaining your health during the COVID-19 pandemic, all the ensuing screen time comes with its own set of potential health issues. With stay-at-home orders, we are now using our devices for work, school and social time. Looking at screens for too long can create eye pain and discomfort that can make your work and studying all the more challenging.

One reason for this is that when you’re staring at a screen, you are actually blinking less often. A lack of blinking causes dry eyes, which creates discomfort. The act of blinking triggers glands around your eyes to produce tears. When you don’t blink, this gland doesn’t produce the moisture your eyes need. This can cause both immediate discomfort and long-term issues with severe dry eyes. Those glands can even stop working over time. The discomfort associated with this type of dry eyes can become debilitating, even when you’re not at the screen.

Apart from dry eyes, the blue light emitted by both computers and phones can cause eyestrain, headaches, blurry vision and even interfere with sleep cycles. If you’ve noticed you or your student waking up groggier or complaining of headaches, blue light could certainly be the culprit.

Finally, the risk of myopia, or near-sightedness, increases with more screen time. Thankfully, this is something that many doctor’s offices are now able to treat and stop the progression of if it’s caught early. The good news is that there are ways to cut down on both dry eyes and blue light exposure. If you’ve started to experience any of the above symptoms or want to prevent having them, follow these tips:

1. Wash your eyelids. Just as you wash your face every day, wash your lids and lashes with a non-soap cleanser and warm water. This helps clean away allergens and helps keep the tear glands open. This will ensure your eyes continue to produce quality tears naturally throughout the day.

2. Take breaks. A good general rule is every 30 minutes, rest your eyes for 30 seconds. Longer breaks and shorter intervals are even better. This can be as easy as looking out a window or standing up to get a glass of water. You are also more likely to be more efficient and creative at work if you include movement in your daily routine.

3. Set up a healthy workspace. Your workspace at home may look very different now than how it looks at your office. But it’s important to create a healthy workspace no matter where you are, even if it’s at the kitchen table! Here are some ways to set up a workspace that is kind to your eyes:

  • Increase the font size on your computer and your smartphone. You can figure out how to do this for your specific device by doing a simple Google search for your make and model.
  • Make sure that you are working in a well-lit room. Natural sunlight has an added benefit for your health, so sit near a window if you can.
  • Make sure your monitor is at arms-length away from your face.
  • Maintain good posture.
  •  Connect your computer to a larger monitor, if at all possible, so everything is larger and easier to see and read.

4. Protect your eyes from the blue light and glare from screens. Set your smartphone to NIGHT SHIFT (iPhone) or NIGHT MODE (Android) all the time. Screens radiate blue light. Researchers agree that blue light from LED devices holds back the production of sleep-inducing melatonin. Reduced melatonin levels can negatively impact natural sleep cycle, specifically REM sleep. Sleep is necessary for our immune system, our productivity and our creativity.

5. Set up a virtual or in-person appointment with your eye-care professional. Having a good eye doctor is important to maintaining good eye health and vision, both in the short and long term. Each person is different and therefore it’s important to see a doctor to make sure you are getting the individualized care and attention you require. There may be underlying issues such as allergies or the need for a specific type of eyeglasses. The underlying issue must be determined by a licensed eye care professional.

It is often said that the eyes are a window to your soul, but they’re also an indicator of your comprehensive health and extremely important to maintain for your well-being and productivity. Start adding the above to your day and you should see an improvement in your work, school and overall life. And don’t forget to be in touch with your doctor!