Millions of people around the world are spending too much time in front of screens, now more than ever. And all due to the pandemic.
Many of those who work or study from home look at their computers and other devices throughout the day.
Because of this, experts warn that new ways of working are taking their toll on us.
Itching, blurred vision, headaches, or eyestrain are among the most common problems.
More than a third (38%) of those who responded to a survey conducted for the charity Fight for Sight, said their eyesight had worsened since the start of the pandemic. Another survey put the figure at 22%.
Experts say that people with persistent problems should visit an ophthalmologist. But there are things that many of us can do to keep our eyes healthy.
1. The 20-20-20 rule
“Relaxing the muscles in and around the eyes is critical,” says Daniel Hardiman-McCartney, clinical advisor to the UK College of Optometrists.
It is simple to do. Every 20 minutes, just look at something at least 20 feet away, which is about six meters, for 20 seconds.
“This keeps your eye muscles from overworking,” Hardiman-McCartney says.
Commuting to work or walking home from school gave people time to relax their eyes without even realizing it. Now, for many people, that has changed too.
When we focus on a nearby object like a screen, the tiny muscles inside the eyes – the ciliary muscles – contract. The contraction changes the shape of the lenses inside the eyes, focusing the image on the retina.
Those little muscles and others around the eye sockets that keep you looking in the same direction need a break.
“It’s like running,” says Hardiman-McCartney. “You wouldn’t jog all day and night, and you would expect your muscles to recover, but that’s what people ask of their eyes.”
2. Think by blinking
“Blinking is really important,” says Professor Sunir Garg of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
“The eyelids work like a wiper washer”.
They remove dust and dirt and wash the surface of the eye with tear fluid.
Blinking also clears stagnant fluid and sharpens vision by keeping the cornea or top layer of the eye moist.
“Without that moisture, the cornea dries up and vision becomes blurry,” says Professor Garg.
The problem is that we blink less frequently when reading on a screen, according to many studies.
Some researchers also suggest that most of our blinks are incomplete when we use a screen, and that the upper and lower lids do not touch completely.
That can leave your eyes itchy, dry, and prone to infection.
So stop working on the screen every now and then and close your eyes completely.
3. Adjust your screen
Experts say the screen should be at arm’s length or 40 to 75 centimeters from your face.
Achieving the correct distance is particularly tricky with laptops that are often too close to the user’s eyes.
If the screen is too close, you run the risk of continually overloading your eye muscles, explains Professor Shahina Pardhan of Anglia Ruskin University in the UK.
If you are too far away, you will have a hard time seeing the small details.
“Use an external keyboard to help you if you can,” he suggests.
An extra monitor can also help.
Professor Pardhan advises positioning the screen so that it is sideways or with its back to the window. That way, you can minimize the reflection of sunlight on the screen.
It is also worth thinking about the height of the screen positionaccording to Badrul Hussain, a consultant surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital in the UK.
“Computer screens should be placed at or slightly below eye level,” he says. The action of “looking at a screen can cause fatigue and dry eye.”
Looking too high or too low can also cause shoulder and neck problems.
4. Larger print
“People should really think about adjusting the font size,” says Professor Pardhan.
“It is not a good idea to work on a smartphone or tablet for long periods because the text is too small,” he details.
Nevertheless, there is no one ideal size that fits all people, dice.
“You should find a font size that is most comfortable for you for continuous reading.”
Also recommends adjust screen brightness to match the level of light where you are.
Avoid working in a dark room with a bright screen.
Experts say that dark text on a light background is generally better for the eyes than light text on a dark background.
And it’s also best to avoid low-contrast color schemes.
5. Get out and enjoy the outdoors
“It is essential to take regular breaks from the screen”advises Professor Mariya Moosajee, University College London.
“It gives your eyes a chance to look far away and blink.”
The regular short breaks they are better than fewer longer breaks, he adds.
Going outside for a break is a great way to relieve pressure on your eyes, as well as to help your overall physical and mental health.
Obviously that is difficult during confinement, especially for people who do not have access to a private garden or balcony. But studies suggest that it may be even more important for children.
Eye strain from heavy screen use in adults can be extremely unpleasant, but it does not cause permanent damage.
In children, however, there is some evidence that heavy screen use and insufficient time outdoors can lead to myopia.
Professor Garg points to research conducted in China and Japan that says myopia in children is “truly an epidemic.”
Experts say that the problem in children could be too much screen time or too little time outdoors, or a combination of both.
And it’s not clear exactly how being outdoors helps your eyes.
You may tend to relax them more when you’re outside as you spend more time looking at objects further away.
Or it may be that being outdoors exposes us to specific wavelengths of light that promote eye development.
But it is clear that “Outdoor activity can reduce the chances that children will develop myopia”says Professor Garg.
So make the most of your time outdoors and encourage children to do the same.
Illustrations by Gerry Fletcher.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.