Are computers really bad for us? This series of posts looks at the top three dangers of digital screens for our eyes. We previously wrote about the dangers of too much exposure to computer-emitted blue light.
In terms of eye health and getting a good night’s sleep, minimising exposure is crucial. We also wrote about computer-related digital eyestrain. This article focuses on how computer use can also contribute to dry eye.
The link between computers and dry eye syndrome
Computers are hard on our eyes. They just weren’t designed for staring for hours at a time at a back-lit screen in a dry, often air-conditioned environment. Twenty-five years ago, when an optometrist graduated from university, all they had been taught about dry eye could be written on the back of a postage stamp. That’s because dry eye was a rare condition, usually reserved for post-menopausal women. We just didn’t see that much of it. That’s all changed with the advent of the digital age. There has been exponential change in how we live and how we use our bodies and particularly our eyes since the arrival on the scene of the smartphone and the tablet. Chances are, if you live and work in an urban area, you have some degree of dry eye. Digital screen use contributes to this epidemic of dry eye in a number of ways.
Blinking: Use it or lose it
Up until a decade ago or so, we had a tendency to blink regularly – 10-15 times a minute – throughout the day through a range of activities. The only time our blink rate slowed down was when we watched TV; we would stare at the screen for much longer periods between blinks. Enter the iPhone… Now it is commonplace to stare at digital devices for upwards of ten hours a day. If we factor in desktop computers at work, tablets such as iPads at home, smart phones, games consoles and TV – not to mention eReaders such as Kindle – we are using digital screens all day every day. This is bad news for eyes. Screen use automatically slows down our blink rate and our blink muscles actually start to atrophy after a while. It is not uncommon for dry eye sufferers to need rehabilitation therapy to get their blinking back on track. Add to this the fact that incomplete blinking – where the lids don’t fully meet when they close – fails to stimulate the oil glands at the edges of our eyelids and these glands play an essential role in regulating the quality of our tear film. Blinking exercises can help get things back on track and you can even download an app that will remind you to take a break from your computer and blink every half hour or so!
Dry air? Dry eye…
Desktop computers at work are usually situated in heavily air-conditioned offices. This atmosphere is very dehydrating on your whole body – but particularly your eyes. Staring at a screen without blinking allows the dry air to further dehydrate your corneal surface, resulting in dry areas developing all over your eye’s surface. Not only is this uncomfortable, it also causes blurred, inconsistent vision.
• While humidifiers work well in small offices or home office environments, they can be useless in an open plan office.
• Staying hydrated by keeping up your fluid intake can also help – but don’t overdo it! You can get too much of a good thing. Excessive water intake can overwork kidneys and leave you feeling worse than ever. 2 litres or 8 glasses a day is a good benchmark.
• Dry eye drops can be useful if your dry eye seems directly related to digital screen use. Just as you would use a moisturiser on your skin you can use dry eye drops to replace some of the moisture that is stripped from your eyes by screen use in an air-conditioned office.
• Glasses offer a physical barrier to the drying effects of air-conditioning and in combination with a blue-blocker tint and a correction for any spectacle error you may have, they can be a huge boon.
• Blinking exercises and the 20-20-20 rule can help keep your tear film working well for you. Every 20 minutes, look into the distance for 20 seconds and blink 20 times. It really works!
• Take steps to reduce blue light exposure from your digital screens. See our tips here.
Dry eye is closely linked to digital screen use and is one of the most common side effects of computer use. Along with computer-related eyestrain and computer-emitted blue light, it is one of the occupational hazards of the digital age.