Happy New Year! My hunch is that as much as we might think about what 2021 has in store, many of us are just happy to just say it is NOT 2020! Since, unfortunately, the mere turn of a page on a calendar is not enough to turn the page on the pandemic, we still have work to do and issues to address. I am going to cover some of the mild but fairly widespread issues that my patients are dealing with during this period.
A major issue, vision-wise, has been the effects of remote working and remote learning. Many working adults previously spent much of their day in front of a computer. However, for those working at home, many are now working on laptops with smaller screens, and, perhaps more importantly, for prolonged periods of time. When we are in an office, we have meetings, distractions from co-workers and other responsibilities that might get up away from staring at a computer, but at home, we are often fixated. This may be one reason why productivity with at-home work has been so lauded by companies as far as efficiency, but it also means we are “engaged” with our computers unabated for long periods of time. For students, prolonged, uninterrupted screen time can cause eye irritation, redness, dryness, fluctuations of vision, blur, strain and headaches. Simply stated, children are not “designed” for what we are asking them to do, i.e., hours of non-stop concentrated near work.
There are a few things that people in these groups can do to help. One is to take frequent breaks from sustained screen time. I’ve written before about “20-20-20,” where a break of 20 seconds is taken every 20 minutes while looking at something 20 feet away (or closing one’s eyes for 20 seconds and envisioning looking off to the horizon). This is akin to taking breaks between sets of weightlifting, where the breaks allow for some recovery time.
Reminding oneself to blink is important because blinking recoats the eyes with new tears and blink rates tends to diminish by half with sustained near work. There are simple blink exercises that help where a couple of times a day, you can blink very hard 4–5 times for 2–3 seconds for each blink. This helps to pump the glands in the lids that produce the oils that coat the tears. Periodic use of artificial tears per out the day can help to soothe and lubricate the eyes (but products like Visine should be avoided).
Additionally, there is widespread recognition that the blue light we encounter from devices can cause short-term symptoms and can, over time, contribute to macular degeneration. There are lens treatments that can block up to 90 percent of this potentially damaging blue light, as well as ultraviolet and glare.
Lastly, getting optical quality prescription computer glasses can play a major role in our ability to sustain prolonged near work efficiently. Even a mild prescription, when used over many hours, can reduce strain, headaches, while balancing the eyes properly with an optimal prescription. It is a bit like the attention you might pay to the quality and sizing of your shoes if your job was to be on your feet all day!
Finally, who would have thought fog would be a problem in Arizona? When people wear masks, the seal on the upper part is often not tight, so air moves through the top. We can experience dryness (particularly for contact lens wearers), so increased use of lubricating drops could help, and many experience fogging of their glasses. First you can adjust your mask to increase the seal between the top of the mask and your face. Secondly, there are non-fog sprays that can be applied to the surfaces of your glasses that help to reduce fogging.
Your eyes are being asked to do things they are not designed to do, and there are steps you can take to help reduce that demand. Here’s hoping that next year at this time, we can get back to talking about things like New Year’s parties and resolutions. Until then, here’s to…2021…er…here’s to NOT 2020!