How COVID-19 worsens digital eye strain

While retailers have been struggling with business after lockdown, optometrists have noticed something rather unexpected. COVID-19, it seems, has caused the number of people getting eye tests to skyrocket.

Pre-COVID, most people came simply because they were due. Now, the majority of people have problems, and many are seeing an optometrist for the first time. Most feel their eyesight has deteriorated recently. They complain of blurriness, fatigue, or pressure around the eye area. Their eyes might also feel irritable, especially as the day progresses.

So what does COVID-19 have to do with this? These patients have one important factor in common: all are working from home. Meetings are now done by Zoom; lunchbreaks now spent over the laptop. Without distractions like coffee breaks and our colleagues, it has never been easier to spend eleven hours on the screen. No commuting means we have even more time to binge-watch Netflix on our tablets.

There’s no doubt that working from home has created challenges for your eyes. Our world is increasingly screen-based, and even more so from home.  On the other hand, your visual system is developed for long distances, and as your eyes struggle to keep up, you perceive that as discomfort. There’s even a name for this: digital eye strain. Uncorrected prescriptions and muscle imbalances that you didn’t know we had can further exacerbate this and the fact that when you stare at something, you blink less, thus creating sensations of grittiness or dryness.

Unfortunately, there is no magic cure for digital eye strain. There are things that help: regular breaks away from any screen (the 20-20-20 rule recommends looking at something twenty feet away for twenty seconds, every twenty minutes) and making sure that any muscle imbalance or uncorrected prescription is corrected. And while the verdict isn’t out on whether blue light filters really stop the strain, there’s anecdotal evidence to suggest that it does.

COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in many ways. While it seems that your vision has suffered from the “new normal,” you can make the working from home experience much more comfortable by simply being aware of the symptoms, causes, and seeking help when needed.

Stephanie Lai is an optometrist.

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