7 Eye Care Tips For Digital Device Use During Covid-19
The widespread coronavirus pandemic is a landmark event in the entire history of the modern world. The unrelenting pace of the disease, leading to governments imposing stringent social distancing measures to combat its spread, has virtually changed the face of human interaction.
Singapore has extended its Circuit Breaker duration to 1 June — this prolonged restriction at home and relative inactivity will likely lead to a heavy use of digital devices such as the television, computer, tablet, or smartphone.
How can you better care for your eyes while using your devices? Here are 7 simple tips from Dr Errol Chan, Consultant Ophthalmologist at LSC Eye Clinic.
1. Get an updated spectacle prescription specific for screen use
While glasses may not be needed for distance activities, you may find that glasses prescribed specifically for digital screen use can be helpful.
This applies to younger individuals as well, and not just people with presbyopia (“lao hua”). In fact, a very common problem amongst the large number of short-sighted individuals in the Singapore population is that their distance glasses, whilst giving reasonably good distance vision, causes specific difficulty for near work. Thus, by making some slight tweaks to the prescription, by very slightly under-correcting the short-sight, can go a long way in promoting comfort for screen use.
Glasses specific for use on the computer glasses also are a good choice even if you wear bifocals or progressive lenses. Bifocals and progressives are fine if you are up and about, but less so if you have to work on a computer for prolonged intervals.
Special coatings on the lenses are also helpful to maximize comfort and vision. For example, anti-glare glasses help improve contrast with the digital screens by reducing the amount of light reflecting off the front and back surfaces of your glasses.
So individuals who do not actually have any spectacle prescription may just find it more comfortable to be using a pair of anti-glare lenses!
2. Use proper lighting
Eye strain often is caused by excessively bright light, for example from sunlight through a window or from excessively bright interior lighting. Determining how much is too much is sometimes a matter of trial and error.
Ideally, computer and television screens should be positioned such that they are not near windows with sunlight streaming in, or with bright sunlight behind them. As some computer screens are fairly reflective, anti-glare reflectors should be installed on screens to reduce screen glare and improve contrast.
Eliminate exterior light by using day curtains or blinds. Interior fluorescent lighting can be reduced by using a reduced number of tubes. In fact, indirect “warm white” fluorescent lighting is preferred to regular fluorescent lighting, as the latter creates a lot of glare.
Overhead fluorescent lights contribute to a lot of reduced contrast with screens. Thus where possible, ceiling fluorescent lights should be turned off. If you use a desk lamp, make sure that it is directed away from the screen, otherwise this would cause excessive reflection.
3. Pay attention to ergonomics when using the computer
As surprising it may be, the positions of your computer screen, reference materials, and seating position all matter!
Most people find it more comfortable to view a screen whilst looking slightly downward. The optimal position of the computer screen should be about 10 to 15 degrees below eye i.e. about 3 or 4 inches from the center of the screen. The screen should be at a distance of 20 to 30 inches from your eyes. Trial and error usually gives the optimal distance. For ease of viewing and to avoid excessive head movements which can tire you out, reference materials can be placed at about the same eye level on a document stand.
Changes to the chair height should therefore take into consideration these requirements, as well as the need to allow the arm and wrist to rest comfortably for keyboard usage.
4. Adjust your computer or television display settings
Adjusting the display settings of your computer can also help to keep your eyes comfortable.
First adjust the brightness of the display so it’s approximately the same as the brightness of your surroundings. This reduces wide variations in contrast between your surroundings and your screen, which make it more difficult for prolonged reading work.
Next, adjust the text size and contrast, especially for long articles. Also, black print on a white background is the best combination to facilitate reading.
5. Rest and blink
To prevent eye strain, try to rest your eyes when using the computer for long periods. Rest your eyes for 15 minutes after about one or hours of continuous computer use simply by closing them. Closing the eyes allows your eyelids to bring a good layer of tears to moisten your cornea.
A good rule of thumb is to rest your eyes after every 20 minutes of computer viewing by looking into the distance for 20 seconds to allow your eyes a chance to refocus. Do this for about 10 times.
Also, make an effort to blink frequently. Prolonged screen time often makes us so engrossed that we forget to blink and so conscious effort is necessary. Blinking has a milking effect on the expression of oil from the eyelid glands into the tear film, and also coats the cornea with a nice layer of tears.
Did you know?
Why does a lack of blinking lead to eye discomfort? Tears coating the eye evaporate more rapidly during the long non-blinking phases and can cause dry eyes. Also, when we are concentrating on the screen, the blinks are mostly partial lid closures, and do not fully lubricate the corneal surface. Blinking during screen use is all the more important for contact lens users, where a healthy tear film is important to good vision, because blinking ensures that the lens is coated with a good tear layer.
6. Environmental Awareness
Air-conditioning decreases the ambient humidity, increasing the rate in which your tears evaporate, and puts you at a greater risk for dry eye problems. So switch off that air-conditioner if at all possible!
Also, with warmer temperatures, the rate of tear evaporation is higher. If you do go out for a run just to break the monotony, make sure you put on a pair of sunglasses. Apart from protecting your eyes from harmful UV rays, sunglasses also protect your eyes from gusts of wind, which also dry out the eye surface.
7. Lubricate, Lubricate & Lubricate
There are many over-the-counter (OTC) eye drop options which can be used for the initial symptomatic relief of dry eye symptoms. Regular use of these drops improves the tear film and thus the eye surface. These drops can be purchased at pharmacies such as Guardian, Watsons, Unity, and some supermarkets.
The simplest method of lubrication is in fact splashing some tap water onto your eyes when you wash your face. However as you would soon realize, the relief is only temporary as water doesn’t coat the eye surface well and runs off very quickly, and soon the eyes become dry again.
There are numerous OTC lubricant drops out in the market, so the question is, which one should you get?
First, we need to make a clear distinction between lubricating eye drops and eye drops formulated to “reduce eye redness.” The latter can indeed make your eyes look less red as they contain agents to reduce the prominence of blood vessels on the surface of your eyes. However, they do not necessarily reduce dryness and irritation.
So back to the question on deciding which drop to get. There are actually multiple considerations, but the main factors are as follows:
- How often are you likely to use the drops?
This relates firstly, to how frequent or severe your symptoms are. If severe, it is appropriate to use drops which last longer on the eye surface due to their thicker consistency. In this regard, Evolve HA, Systane Hydrate and Systane Ultra all last reasonably well on the eye surface.
In addition, the more frequently you require drops, the more you should opt for preservative-free drops. Preservative-free drops come in unit dose vials, instead of bottles. The most common preservatives used are benzalkonium chloride, Purite, or Polyquad – so look for these in the fine print in the labels. Without preservatives, the shelf-life of eye drops is much shorter, once the container is opened. The vials have to be consumed within the day. If you require drops fairly frequently, for example like more than 4 or 5 times daily, then excessive use of preservative-containing lubricants will concentrate these preservatives on your eye surface and leave dry spots on your cornea.
- Are you able to tolerate some visual blur with each drop?
Unfortunately with the current drops in the market, you can’t have your cake and eat it at the same time. In general, the thicker the drops are in consistency, the more blurred your vision gets. Drops like Refresh Plus are less thick, and give quite immediate excellent vision after a single application, so they are good if one needs an occasional use during digital screen time.
The downside is that being much less viscous the comfort they provide lasts for only a short while. More viscous drops give an immediate blur once instilled, but do recover somewhat once the drop redistributes itself over the eye surface.
- Do you need drops at night?
If you tend to wake up with very dry eyes, then you may need a gel at night, in addition to drops during the day. A gel is much thicker in consistency and more concentrated in the lubricating polymer, compared to an eye drop and by coating the eye surface, provides much more moisturization to tide you over without drying out until the next morning.
If your eyes are experiencing considerable difficulty with digital screens, even after adopting the above care measures, you may have an underlying dry eye or associated Meibomian gland problem that will require a proper assessment, and likely directed and more intensive treatment.
Schedule an appointment with Dr Errol Chan to obtain a thorough evaluation of your eye condition, and to discuss a personalized treatment plan to get you back to functioning well again.
About the Author
Dr Errol Chan has international experience in caring for patients with eye diseases, having worked at various eye centres in the world. To date, he has performed thousands of cataract and vitreoretinal surgery procedures.
His practice centers on all aspects of general and emergency ophthalmology, with special expertise in cataract surgery in Singapore, the medical and surgical treatment of retinal diseases, and uveitis. Dr Chan’s meticulous approach emphasizes quality care, safety, honesty, and empathy. His personal ethos is to provide the most appropriate treatment for every patient to achieve the best possible vision.
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