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Slay the (Eye) Strain

March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month 

Whether work-from-home or at the office, complaints of eye strain have soared over the past year as workers combat increased screen time.  

Non-stop Zoom callsconstant messaging, and staring at computer screens, make for tired, strained eyes by the end of the day.   

But feeling the strain can be a symptom of several different eye conditions, especially for those over 40. 

Common Culprits of Eye Strain  

1 Digital Devices 

Routine eye strain occurs after focusing on something for protracted periods of time without taking a break. Reading at close range or long distance driving, especially at night or in poor weather conditions, are common causes.  

Digital eye strain occurs when viewing electronic devices like computers, cellphones and tv’s for long periods. Digital screens emit significant amounts of blue light, short wavelengths on the color spectrum that scatter freely and are not easily focusedThis creates a visual “noise” of low contrast that contributes to strain.    

Not all blue light is disruptive. Short wavelengths are found abundantly in sunlight (they make the sky look blue) and are associated with increased attention, mood, and performance.  But prolonged exposure, especially at night before bed, can interfere with normal circadian rhythms and sleep cycles.    

All versions of eye strain share common complaints of tired eyes, headaches, blurred vision, and irritation. 

2 Presbyopia 

At times, presbyopia can feel a lot like eye strain – difficulty focusing, especially when reading, headaches and blurred vision. 

This occurs because the inner lens of the eye becomes less flexible with ageWhen we are young, the natural lens is soft and flexible, easily changing shape. This flexibility allows you to focus on objects both close-up and far away. After age 40, the lens becomes more rigid. It cannot change shape easily, causing close objects to appear blurry.  It becomes harder to read, thread a needle, or do other close-up tasks. 

If you are over 40, it’s likely you have experienced the phenomenon of presbyopia – holding a menu or your phone at arm’s length in order to read the text.   

There’s no cure for presbyopia, but many ways to improve it. Readers, bifocals, progressive lenses and contacts are all good options to improve the clarity of near vision 

3 Dry Eye  

Blinking is the eye’s natural refresh rate. When you blink, a tear film spreads over the eye to keep the surface smooth and clear. A healthy tear film is important for good vision. Lower blinking rates or a disruption in the normal tear film can result in dry eye. Symptoms include blurred vision, redness, irritation, and feeling of ‘sand’ or ‘grit’ in the eye 

A normal tear film is made of three layers, each layer serving an important purpose.  

  • Oily layer makes the tear surface smooth and keeps tears from drying out quickly.   
  • Watery layer cleans the eye, washing away particles that do not belong in the eye.  
  • Mucus layer keeps the eye moist by spreading the watery layer over the eye’s surfaceWithout mucus, tears don’t stick to the eye. 

When production of oily or mucus layers are lacking, the eye compensates with overproduction of watery tears. 

Ironically, constant tearing and watery eyes can be the first sign of chronic dry eye. 

Tips to Reduce Eye Strain 

1 Take a break 

Use the 20-20-20 rule to break up your screen and reading time.  

For every 20 minutes of screen exposure or reading, pause and stare at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This will allow you to focus on varied distances. It might even encourage you to explore the scene away from screen. Walking outside in the original blue light can be a terrific break for you mind and eyes.  

2 Blink 

It’s documented that we blink less when looking at devices compared to other activities.  On average, we typically blink 15-20 times per minute. That decreases to 5-7 times per minute when looking at screens.  

Blinking helps your eyes stay moist and remove irritations. If you need extra moisture, choose a good quality artificial tear without preservatives. You’ll notice a refreshed feeling and clearer outlook.   

3 Adjust Display Settings 

Glare contributes to eye strain. Make sure work screens are the same brightness as your general work environment. Displays that are too dark or too bright create glare and cause strain.    

If you have presbyopia, there’s no shame increasing the font size on your screen. Larger text is easier to read without straining or squinting. Take advantage of all the settings to make screen viewing easier on the eyes! 

4 Invest in Quality Readers or Light blocking lenses  

Reading glasses made specifically computer distances are great option to magnify small, hard-to-read text on your phone or computer screen. They can even be made to block blue light with a special coating.  

Blue light blocking glasses are available with or without prescription lenses. They can help reduce the effects of harmful short wavelengths of light and improve sleep.  

5 Get a comprehensive eye exam 

Regular eye exams are a good way to relief from digital eye strain symptoms and to check the overall health of your eyes. Screen time might not be the reason for your headaches or blurry vision. See  your eye doctor if blurry close-up vision is keeping you from reading, doing close-up work or enjoying other normal activities. You may just need a new prescription for glasses or contacts.  

Always seeimmediate medical care if you: 

  • Have sudden loss of vision in one eye with or without eye pain 
  • Experience sudden hazy or blurred vision 
  • See flashes of light, black spots or halos around lights 
  • Experience sharp pain inside the eye 
  • Have double vision