According to the American Optometric Association, the average American worker spends 7 hours a day on the computer, either in the office or working from home. According to a recent article in the New York Post, Americans spend half of their lives in front of screens.
During this unprecedented time, how many of you wake up looking at your phone or computer to read the latest news updates? Your phone is always on and you put your computer to “sleep” for quick access. We want immediate answers such as, “Did I get a response from my physician from the patient portal?” Or, we wake up with a list of questions we want answered NOW! “Have the number of COVID-19 cases leveled off…. have they found a cure yet?” How many times have you asked yourself, “How did I survive before computers?!
But we know, there is a downside to every good thing, and there is no Light without a little bit of the dark.
Does this sound familiar? After spending a large portion of your time looking intently into your computer screen and racking up all that wonderful knowledge from the internet, you start rubbing your eyes. You may even start to have headaches and blurred vision. Almost all of us will start complaining of dry eyes at some point, and some of us have even noticed neck and shoulder pain.
Your ophthalmologist or optometrist will diagnose this condition as Asthenopia symptoms (eye strain, blurred vision, burning eyes) after ruling out any diseases or conditions that cause similar symptoms. We computer “junkies” seem to always be treating our “dry eyes” (I just used my artificial tear drops a few minutes ago). These symptoms account for the most serious annoyances, and have a name attached to them, called Computer Vision Syndrome, CVS, or Digital Eye Strain. CVS is not the drug store, but a price we pay for being so dependent on our computers and third screens.
Since dry eyes is a side-effect that most of us are dealing with, let’s start with what causes us the most distress. “Parching your peepers,” which is what some people call dry eyes. Those in the “know” who study the eye, say that we blink every 10 seconds, or in that neighborhood. That’s “healthy blinking.” Blinking provides a “tear film over our eyes. It’s like when we coat our lips with lip balm, but it’s your eyes that are coated. Let’s call our tears, “eye balm.”
When we stare without blinking, there is no soothing of the eye with the “tear film.” When we are on the computer, watching TV or using our phone or tablet, we don’t blink enough. Try timing your blinks every 20 seconds to find out how effective something as natural as blinking can be. Did you know your tears are filled with oil water and mucus? And how lubricating these can be? It’s amazing how complex our bodies are. These 3 layers not only keep our eyes moist, but comfortable too.
While the chances of getting dry eyes, go up with age, a 2016 study found that children who spent more time on their smartphones -- and less time outside -- experienced more dry eye symptoms.
Is it surprising that when we spend long periods staring at our screens without blinking, our eye “muscles,” called ciliary muscles, also tire and need rest? When this happens, look out the window or at a distant object or even to the sky, which rests the muscles. In other words, “TAKE A BREAK!” And if you wear glasses, make sure your lenses have anti-reflective coating and your sunglasses have adequate UV protection.
I will address the other symptoms of CVS during a future article, i.e., neck pain, etc.
by Mollie Patterson, RN, MSN, MS, JD