In today’s high-tech world, we strain our eyes every day. In many offices, working with computers is not only an integral part of the job, but a majority require employees to be reading or looking at a computer screen for 6–8 hours of their work day. A poll from Careerealism asked readers how many hours a day on average they spent on a computer, including when they weren’t working; 33 percent said they were on computers 10–12 hours every day and 32 percent said 7–9 hours.
May is Healthy Vision Month, which is designed to elevate vision as a national health priority. Created by the National Eye Institute in 2003, Healthy Vision Month promotes the importance of early detection and treatment for common eye diseases and conditions. Despite our society’s dependence on, and perhaps overuse of, screen-based entertainment media, there are other ailments to watch out for when it comes to taking care of your eyes. Learning how to protect your eyes will keep them healthy and working to their full potential.
It’s not just working adults who are risking the health of their eyes from too much screen time. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an infographic depicting the average number of hours children in different age groups spent in front of a screen. They reported that children ages 8–10 spent about six hours a day in front of screens and children ages 11–14 spent a whopping nine hours a day on average in front of a screen. The infographic also showed alternative activities that children could be doing instead, such as playing basketball, walking the dog or riding their bikes. Not only would these alternatives help to keep their bodies healthy, but it would give their eyes a much-needed break.
“The two main complaints from long-term computer work are visual fatigue, called asthenopia, and dry-eye related symptoms,” says Dr. Stuart R. Tasman, a diplomat in the American Board of Optometry who has been in private practice for more than 32 years. “With the advent of the new tablets and iPhones, more and more near-oriented complaints are being seen in an eye doctors’ office. More intense near-work results in more symptoms requiring office visits.”
A few ways to avoid eyestrain when working on a computer for long periods of time are reducing glare and using proper lighting. If possible, make sure any window light is to the side of your screen rather than in front or behind it. The “20-20-20” rule is a good one to abide by: Look away from your computer every 20 minutes and focus on a distant object around 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. This will exercise your eyes and reduce the risk of your eyes locking focus, which is called an accommodative spasm.
Common Eye Ailments
Some of the most common eye ailments have little to do with overuse and strain and more to do with the fact that the eye is a sensitive organ. Dr. Steven Corwin of the Marietta Eye Clinic sees patients most often for corneal abrasions, conjunctivitis, chalazions (styes) and sub-conjunctival hemorrhages. “Corneal abrasion occurs when the surface of the eye is scratched or when something gets in the eye,” says Corwin, “and is treated with antibiotic drops and either lubricating ointment, a bandage, contact lens or patch.”
Conjunctivitis and sub-conjunctival hemorrhages tend to be trickier, because they have to run their course. Conjunctivitis is often caused by a viral infection and can be treated with cortisone drops to ease discomfort. Typically caused by roughly rubbing the eye or by a temporary increase in blood pressure, sub-conjunctival hemorrhages are treated with ice packs for the first few days and then left to clear on their own. Chalazions are caused by a blocked lid gland. Warm compresses, and sometimes cortisone injections or surgical drainage, are used for relief.
Tasman says what patients call “pink eye” is what he sees most often. “The reality is there is no such thing as ‘pink eye,’ as the eye turns red with allergic conjunctivitis, bacterial conjunctivitis and viral conjunctivitis. All of these ailments constitute the most common maladies seen in most eye doctors’ offices,” he says. “The second most common eye problem is probably related to infections from over-wear of contacts. This can lead to an ulcer, which is visually threatening and should be treated vigorously.” Most infections are treated with antibiotics, depending on the pathogen.
There are many preventive measures that can be taken to ensure your eyes stay healthy, and a big one is utilizing proper eye protection for all tasks. Corwin stresses the importance of wearing eye protection when playing sports or doing any home repairs. “Always wear UV blocking sunglasses outside, as they protect against cataracts and macular degeneration,” he says.
“Regular eye exams are necessary to make sure the eyes are healthy and free of disease,” says Tasman. “People generally will only go to the eye doctor when they have blurred vision. Most eye diseases are treatable if found early. Good, prudent care of your eyes is important to one’s overall health.” Corwin advises patients to have a comprehensive, dilated eye exam every one to two years, as many eye conditions have very subtle symptoms that are easily overlooked unless diagnosed by a professional.
Your diet and lifestyle can also have a notable effect on your eye health, especially if you smoke. According to Corwin, smoking can significantly increase your chance of developing macular degeneration. Both Corwin and Tasman agree it is important to eat plenty of dark, leafy greens—vegetables like spinach and collard greens can help protect against macular degeneration as well. “People will go to the dentist to get their teeth cleaned and checked regularly,” says Tasman. “It amazes me that every time I ask, ‘Are your eyes or teeth more important to you?’ they always say eyes. Please have a thorough eye evaluation at least every two years.”
Taking care of your eyes should be given the same consideration and level of importance as the care of any other major organs. Sight is a sense not to be taken for granted, so be sure to rest your eyes after long periods of time on the computer or reading, eat plenty of green vegetables and schedule regular checkups with your optometrist. As Tasman says, “You only get one pair of eyes, so take care of them.”