We are all so focused on social distancing ourselves during the pandemic that we are forgetting to focus our attention on our eyes and the strain caused by literally staring at electronic screens.

Dr. Jason Hauck from Iris Optometrists and Opticians in Cochrane took a moment out of his busy day to answer some questions regarding the correlation between eye strain and increased screen time.

Dr. Hauck says, “Across the board, we’re hearing that from other offices as well, it’s about 50% increase in dry eye-related events as well as headaches and fatigue just that strain looking at devices, etc. We are definitely hearing more complaints regarding those sorts of things.”

Studies have shown that people literally stare at electronic screens and blink less than they normally would.  Dr. Hauck says the studies showed that “We blink about once every 15 seconds when normally we blink about once every five seconds so, we don’t really know why is it again that we are just engaged and concentrating on the task at hand on the screen.  But in general, people blink less about 1/3 less than what they are supposed to.”

Dr. Hauck says that there are various ways to relieve the symptoms of near-point eye strain from taking breaks to prescribing glasses, of course, it depends on what an eye examination reveals.  Hauck says, “The way eyes work, our eyes are more relaxed farther out. So, we are either talking to them (patients) about lifestyle changes trying to move that screen further back or that iPad further back, and if that does not work, we go ahead and prescribe glasses to relieve that near-point strain.” We should take breaks from screens every 20 minutes and when we do take that break, we should concentrate on blinking and looking into the distance to relax the eye.

For some, eye strain maybe because their eyes do not work well together, and a person may have convergence problems that cause difficulty focusing on screens or near-point objects and that can cause eye strain. Some patients may find relief with exercises and some through wearing glasses.

New studies are pointing to the negative effects that blue light, which radiates from electronic screens, has on our eyes. Dr. Hauck says, “Most opticals now are promoting blue light protection. The evidence is that blue light is harder for us to focus with eye muscles than it is to with red and green light and that is the difference between computers and reading a book with more natural light.”

If adults have trouble realizing that they are straining their eyes with increased screen time, then it is paramount that children be monitored on electronic devices.  Dr. Hauck says, if you consciously try to hold your eyes open without blinking for 15 seconds you will feel burning and dryness. Somehow the screens have us so mesmerized that we forget about the discomfort or just ignore it.

The pandemic has increased our need and ability to be on screens more. It goes without saying, that children are looking at screens more than ever due to the need to study or because of social isolation and boredom.  Adults are required to work or study from home and are using computers and tablets to connect with the outside world.  While we are aware of the lifestyle changes, we must also be cognizant of the effect the new lifestyle is having on our eyes.  If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms like headaches, blurred vision, eye irritation, tearing or dry eyes, and excessive blinking then your eyes are being strained.  If taking a break does not help then seek professional advice. Your tired eyes will appreciate it and once the trance is broken from the screen, so will you.