8 Tips to Avoid Eyestrain during Covid-19 Lockdown
Mr Tariq Ayoub - 28 Feb 2021
The new norm of working and studying from home, glued to our screens for several hours a day, is taking a toll on our eyes. Increasingly, people are reporting sore eyes, itchy eyes, blurred vision and headaches. The ensuing eyestrain is leading to increased tiredness and fatigue. Over a third of respondents in a survey believe that spending time in front of screens had worsened their eyesight.
But can we do anything to reduce eyestrain? This article discusses strategies to keep our eyes healthy and reduce eyestrain.
The 20-20-20 rule
This simple rule is often forgotten. Yet it is probably one of the most effective ways of reducing eye strain. The eyes have tiny muscles – the ciliary muscles – which contract to help us focus on objects close up by changing the shape of the lens. With prolonged close up work, the muscles are unable to relax adequately leading to eye strain. The 20-20-20 rule is a simple way of countering these effects.
The rule simply states for every 20 minutes of close up work (reading, computer, etc.), one should look at something 20 feet away (approximately 6 meters) for 20 seconds. Staring at something in the far distance relaxes the muscles in the eyes reducing eyestrain. Following this simple rule allows your eyes adequate breaks and relaxation to the muscles helping your eyes stay healthy.
Blinking is a natural phenomenon designed to protect and keep our eyes healthy. Blinking replenishes the fluid on the surface of the eye while clearing stagnant fluid which may harbour bacteria and other germs. This process not only keeps the eyes healthy but also sharpens our vision.
Research has shown that the average blink rate should be between 12-15/min. However, during prolonged close up work, we often forget to blink regularly. There are now several websites and apps available which will give you regular reminders through the day to blink. I would highly recommend making use of these resources.
You must remember to blink regularly and close your eyes completely at regular intervals!
Computer screen distance and screen height have been implicated in eyestrain.
You should typically have your screen at least at an arm’s length, or 50-70cm from your face. With laptops and tablets, there is a temptation to bring them closer to our face. However, you should avoid doing this. Your eyes should be aligned with the centre of the screen. Adjust your seat position or your screen height to ensure proper alignment of your eyes with the screen. These measures will not only help reduce eyestrain but also help with your posture, neck and back.
Screen brightness and contrast
Dimly light screens can put undue strain on your eyes. Equally, very bright screens can dazzle the eyes. Adjust the brightness of your screen to your surrounding ambient light. Avoid working with a bright screen on a dark background. Dark text on a light background is generally better for your eyes than light text on a dark background. Avoid using screens with low contrast colour schemes. Using special screen protectors on computers can control the brightness on screens.
Text on phones and tablets are usually small in size. Often text on computer screens is also small. Working with small print for prolonged periods can lead to problems with focusing, dry eyes and headaches. Therefore, adjusting the font size is crucial to avoiding eyestrain. There is no ideal font size. You must adjust the font size to your ambient lighting conditions and to what you find is most comfortable for prolonged reading.
Prior to the pandemic people would leave their workspace to go out for lunch or attending meetings away from their office or simply have to commute. Children had regular breaks to play outdoors. These outdoor activities gave your eyes a chance to look into the distance and blink. However, with remote working and studying, there are reduced opportunities to do the same.
In children, increased screen time and reduced outdoor activity has been implicated in the development and progression of myopia or short-sightedness. Spending time outdoor relaxes the ciliary muscles in the eye as we look at objects in the far distances. This not only reduces eyestrain but has been postulated as a cause for reduced myopia progression in children. Take regular breaks outdoors and make sure your children do the same.
Prolonged contact lens use
With increased remote working, most people continue to wear their contact lens while working as they have to attend regular meetings on online platforms such as Zoom. However, prolonged contact lens wear can result in sore, itchy, dry eyes, headaches and paradoxically blurred vision. It is important to give yourself breaks from your contact lenses. Have contact lens free days when you only wear your glasses to reduce eyestrain. You may also want to consider alternative options such as laser eye surgery or implantable contact lens surgery to reduce your dependence on contact lens and/or glasses.
Regular eye checks
Wearing the wrong prescription glasses and/or contact lens undoubtedly leads to eyestrain. You must have your eyes checked regularly. Wearing the right ocular aids will relax your eyes and help you see clearly. Most optometry practices and ophthalmology clinics are open providing urgent and emergency care during the lockdown. If you are experiencing increasing eyestrain or deterioration in your vision, book an appointment for an eye assessment.