Computers, Phones, and Blinking

Time spent looking at computer and phone screens is closely associated with dry eye.

Computers, Phones, and Blinking in Olympia

As computer and mobile phone use has increased, so too has the prevalence of dry eye. Why is this, and what can be done to avoid it?

American Family Vision Clinic

Screens, Eye Strain, and Dry Eye

Increased time spent in front of a screen, whether that of a computer or a smartphone, is closely associated with dry eye and eye strain. It is extremely common, with about 50% of people who regularly use computers and smartphones experiencing some amount of dry eye.

Screens cause dry eye because when we are looking at them, we subconsciously reduce the frequency of blinking or we blink less fully. This leads to the eyes not being adequately lubricated, and thus dry eye.

Symptoms of eye strain include, apart from dry eyes, blurry vision, headaches, and in more severe cases, neck and shoulder pain.

Dry eye from screen use is most common among people who use screens for work, and are thus staring at them for extended periods of time.

Fortunately, there is no evidence that eye strain from screen use has long-term negative impacts on your eyesight, but the discomfort can be unpleasant and make it harder to get through the workday.

How to Avoid Computer Eye Strain and Dry EyeHow to Avoid Computer Eye Strain and Dry Eye

The best way to deal with computer eye strain is through prevention, rather than treatment, since the symptoms tend to subside if you take measures to prevent it. 

Fortunately, there are simple measures you can take to effectively avoid this problem.

How to Avoid Computer Eye Strain and Dry EyeHow to Avoid Computer Eye Strain and Dry Eye
The 20/20/20 Rule

The 20/20/20 Rule

We aren’t meant to be staring all day at something right in front of us. The 20/20/20 rule is a good way to give our eyes important breaks over the course of the work day.

The way it works is simple. For every 20 minutes you spend looking at a screen, spend 20 seconds looking at something at least 20 feet away. This is just a minimum, however; looking away from the screen for more time is even better for your eyes.

These breaks where you use longer distance vision help keep the eyes from getting overly strained.

The 20/20/20 Rule

Keep Your Room Well Lit

While it might not be obvious, you want to have less light in the room while working on a computer. It should not be dark, but also not too bright. You can achieve this by using less fluorescent lighting, closing curtains, and using lower voltage bulbs. The average office is usually too bright, and the overstimulation can increase the likelihood of eye strain and dry eye.

Reduce Glare

Glare on your screens can lead to eye strain since it prevents your eyes from adjusting as easily as they should to whatever you are trying to focus on.

To reduce glare, use an anti-glare matte screen when possible, as opposed to glass-covered LCDs. If you wear glasses as you work, make sure they have an anti-reflective coating.

Use a High Resolution Screen

Fortunately, computer screens today are better than the old CRT screens which had low refresh rates and created noticeable flickers. Most modern screens have refresh rates of 75Hz or higher. More is better. Screens with higher resolutions look more lifelike, and when you cannot see the pixels, your eyes won’t have to work as hard to make sense of what you’re seeing.

Get Regular Eye Exams

Getting regular eye exams will help you make sure that your eyes are healthy, and that any issues you might have do not become something major. Additionally, seeing an eye doctor gives you a chance to talk to them and seek advice regarding eye health.

Consider Computer Glasses

Our computer screens are usually arm length away from our eyes. Our glasses however are not optimized for this viewing distance. Regular glasses are optimized for near and far vision. By using our eyes to look at a distance that is not optimized by our glasses, we can cause added eye focusing and eye movement demands on the visual system. Computer glasses are specially designed to optimize your vision for the right viewing distance to reduce strain when looking at a computer screen for extended periods of time. 

How to Avoid Computer Eye Strain and Dry EyeHow to Avoid Computer Eye Strain and Dry Eye
The 20/20/20 Rule

Practice Blinking

Because computer and cell phone usage causes us to blink less fully, it is extremely beneficial to actively work on being better blinkers. According to a recent study by Dr. Portello,Christina A. Chu, O.D, M.S., and Mark Rosenfield, Ph.D. computer usage resulted in 75% more incomplete blinks than reading from a printed document. 

Exercise 1: Spend one minute actively blinking, doing fifty full blinks in that one minute period. Look in each direction (up, down, left, right, straight) and blink ten times in each direction (5×10). When doing this exercise, make sure that your blinks are complete by placing your finger sideways under your eye above your cheekbone, pointing towards your nose. When you blink fully you should feel a gentle brush of your upper eyelashes on your finger. 

Exercise 2:

Close your eyes normally, pause for 2 seconds, then open them. Next, close the eyes normally once again, pause for 2 seconds, and then forcefully close them

Hold the lids together tightly for two seconds, then open both eyes. Repeat for 1 minute.

A firm squeeze is used to ensure that the muscles responsible for closing the eyelids are being used.

Exercise 3: 

Put your fingers at the corners of your eyes and blink. During correct blinking, you should not feel any movement under your fingers.

When you feel anything, you are using your defense muscles on the side of your head. Practice blinking with the goal of using your blinking muscles that are above your eyelids. 

Common Questions

To help deal with your dry eyes some natural solutions are to apply warm compresses over your eyes twice a day for 10 minutes and then do lid massages with lid scrubs. Also taking omega-3 fish oil supplements or eating foods with naturally high omega-3s as well as staying hydrated can help. Additionally, taking breaks from your digital screen devices is important; every 20 minutes look somewhere far away, like outside of your window, for 20 seconds. Furthermore, If you’re an incomplete blinker, there are different blink exercises to learn how to take more frequent and full blinks, which can help relieve your symptoms of dry eyes. In regards to your environment you can add a humidifier and filter to add moisture to the air.
Computers, Phones, and Blinking
Dr. Zurcher cartoon

Summary

Dry eye from screen use is increasingly common as we all spend more and more time looking at computer or smartphone screens. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to minimize the risk of dry eye, and ensure that if you need to use screens regularly, you can do so in comfort.

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