4 Simple Ways to Prevent Eye Strain While Stuck at Home
If you’ve increased your screen-time over the past couple of months, it’s nothing to feel guilty about. Many people have had to turn to their phones and computers to stay informed and remain connected with their loved ones. Even though it is beneficial for our knowledge and emotional well-being, the extra hours spent staring at the screen can take a toll on the eyes.
Increased screen-time may lead to digital eye strain, which can involve irritation, burning, tearing, and blurred vision. While not necessarily caused by the screens’ light (as they give off little to no harmful radiation), eye strain is often the result of suppressed blinking and overall dryness and fatigue, explains James G. Gorman Jr., DO, FAAO, Section head of Ophthalmology at Jefferson Health New Jersey.
In addition to eye strain, a vision complication that commonly coexists is a ciliary spasm, says Dr. Gorman, which is when the eye lens muscles swell to accommodate seeing nearby. “I see this often in patients who read a lot for their career or schooling. The more you stare at text, the more tension builds in the muscles, making it difficult to view objects farther away.”
Luckily, there are simple, quick ways to prevent significant eye strain, as well as ciliary spasms, from occurring.
- Take frequent breaks: First and foremost, remember to look away. Eye strain is more likely to occur the longer you stare at a screen. Dr. Gorman recommends looking away from the screen every 30-45 minutes and focusing on an object that’s far away in order to relax your ciliary muscles. When you look away, you’ll also blink more, spreading a new tear film over the cornea, he explains.
- Avoid dry air: Dry air blowing into the eyes from a ceiling or table fan can irritate them. If you have fans on, keep them blowing away from your face. You may want to try using a humidifier to increase the humidity in the air, says Dr. Gorman.
- Avoid other eye irritants: If you suffer from dry eye, avoid smoke from candles, cigarettes, and fireplaces.
- Use artificial tears: Over-the-counter artificial tears, or eye drops, are key to preventing dryness. You can use as often as directed by your physician. Many people use them up to four times a day, says Dr. Gorman, however, if needed more frequently, preservative-free eye drops should be used to avoid an allergic reaction. If these don’t work for you, other gels or lubricants may be suggested.
Some people are at an increased risk for eye strain and dry eyes for reasons more or less out of their control, says Dr. Gorman. Studies have shown that the risk for dry eyes can increase with age; LASIK eye surgery; consumption of certain medications, including diuretics; health complications such as type 1 diabetes; vitamin deficiencies; and hormonal changes in females, particularly post-menopause.
“Symptoms can be worse in the evening, after using your eyes for hours on end,” says Dr. Gorman. “Winter and fall can also be harsher on the eyes, in comparison to the spring and summer, due to more dry air being pumped everywhere to keep warm.”
Mild symptoms of eye strain may be manageable on your own, however, you should consider seeing an ophthalmologist to help pinpoint any underlying causes, as additional treatment options and advice can be offered. In severe cases, surgical intervention may be needed.
“We want to help in every way possible to relieve the pain and dryness, making it easier for you to focus visually and cognitively,” says Dr. Gorman.
Ultimately, the key to preventing eye strain and dryness is to make lifestyle changes that reduce irritation. Dr. Gorman says to treat your eyes like you treat your hands. When you know your hands are susceptible to getting chapped in the winter, you apply lotion ahead of time to hydrate them. If you know you’re going to be staring at a screen for long periods of time, remember to also “hydrate” your eyes!
James G. Gorman Jr., DO, FAAO, Section head of Ophthalmology at Jefferson Health New Jersey can be reached at 856.309.5800.