Dr Tan Yar Li
Having to spend most of your time indoors, with long hours staring at your digital devices while working from home? Likewise for the children, who are on full home-based-learning? Beware discomfort or pain, fluctuating vision, or tired aching eyes. They're the tell-tale symptoms of eye strain.
Staring at computer or mobile screens can cause eye strain. But while you probably won't be able to cut back on the use of these digital devices just yet, you can take active steps to protect your eyes while using them.
Here are some essential tips:
Ensure that your monitor is directly in front of you, at about an arm's length away. Position the top of the screen such that it is at, or just below, eye level. This is to ensure that you are not gazing upwards at the screen, as doing so may increase eye strain.
Adjust the brightness of your screen to a comfortable level, close to the same brightness as your surroundings. This will help to increase the contrast on your screen to reduce eye strain.
Install an anti-glare or matte screen protector to reduce the glare from the light reflecting back from your monitor. If you wear spectacles, purchase lenses with an anti-reflective (AR) coating, as this helps to reduce glare by minimising the amount of light reflected off the front and back surfaces of your spectacle lenses. You can also try to reduce glare from the external environment by drawing the window shades or blinds. If possible, position your computer's monitor such that the windows are at your side, instead of being in front of, or behind, your screen.
If you are already presbyopic or "lao-hua", see your ophthalmologist or optometrist for a pair of prescription glasses that allows you to focus your eyes specifically at computer screen distance. This is an intermediate distance about 20 – 26 inches away from your face. Some people may prefer to use multifocal lenses to have the ability to shift your focus between near, intermediate and far distances. If you are going to be spending hours on the computer, try to avoid wearing contact lenses as this may worsen your dry eyes symptoms.
It is important to take regular breaks using the "20-20-20" rule. For every 20 minutes that you are on the screen, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
It is important to "get away" from your computer screen after every 30 minutes of usage. Take a walk around your room and stretch your arms and legs, and exercise your neck, shoulder and back muscles to relax them. This will help to reduce your risk of headaches, as well as the neck, back and shoulder pain associated with prolonged computer use.
When we are using our digital devices, our blink rate goes down and this can lead to dry eyes. Blinking helps to moisten and refresh our eyes, so make a conscious effort to blink as often as possible. You might even want to put a sticky note on your computer screen to remind you to blink more often.
You can get over-the-counter artificial tears to relieve dry eyes. Or you can visit your ophthalmologist who can suggest eye drops that will best suit your needs. Lubricating eye drops that don't contain preservatives can be used as often as you need. If the drops you're using contain preservatives, don't use them more than 4 times a day.
The air quality and humidity of your 'work' space at home can also be improved by using an air purifier and humidifier. Try to avoid a direct fan blowing at your face, as this will cause your eyes to dry out more.
Last, but not the least, most of these eye strain symptoms caused by computer use are only temporary and will reduce after you stop using the computer. However, if you have persistent eye symptoms, please see your ophthalmologist for a detailed eye assessment.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends that everyone get a baseline eye exam by the age of 40. Regular comprehensive eye exams from an ophthalmologist are critical to diagnosing potential eye diseases at an early stage.
The AAO also recommends that people over age 65 get an exam every 1 – 2 years, even if they have no symptoms of eye problems.