Elevated display screen time in the course of the pandemic sends extra folks to the attention physician

Increased screen time during the pandemic sends more people to the eye doctor

Photo credit: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

Martha Trundle-Selby, 33, has mostly worn glasses for the past six months, although she preferred contact lenses.

After the pandemic, with greater attention to hand hygiene and viruses on surfaces, glasses seemed like a more hygienic option than putting contact lenses in your eyes, she said.

But classic bifocals present a different problem. Breathing fog up her glasses when she wears a mask. The mother, who is staying at home in Atlanta, is therefore strongly considering Lasik eye surgery.

"I really hate wearing glasses. And I really don't want to put my fingers to my eyes. Lasik would solve both of these problems," said Trundle-Selby.

She is not alone.

Opticians report an increasing number of patients seeking help with eye problems during the pandemic. Many are tired of their glasses fogging up when wearing masks and are cautious of the potential for spreading viruses while installing contact lenses. Meanwhile, others are grappling with the consequences of prolonged screen time, which can make a medical condition known as dry eye worse, doctors say

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say you should avoid touching your eyes with unwashed hands to avoid contracting the coronavirus, although it is believed that the disease is spread primarily through inhalation of breath droplets.

Nevertheless, Trundle-Selby, who has worn glasses for many years, does not take any risks. She has an appointment with her optician at the end of October and asks about Lasik.

According to Neda Shamie, a corneal surgeon at the Maloney-Shamie Vision Institute in Los Angeles, she is joining a growing number of people who have sought or received Lasik in the past few months.

Shamie's office has seen requests for Lasik, laser corrective eye surgery, increase 35% and Lasik procedures increase 30% since the beginning of the remote working era in March. Part of the reason for the increase is due to the length of time, she says.

"What we are hearing is that patients with the dry eyes they get with contact lenses are frustrated from spending so much time on computers, long hours in virtual classrooms or meetings for work," Shamie said.

What is dry eye?

According to the Mayo Clinic, dry eye disease is a common condition that occurs when your tears cannot lubricate your eyes adequately. Symptoms usually affect both eyes and doctors say they may include a stinging, burning, or grainy feeling in your eyes.

According to the University of Iowa Health Care, one glance at computer, television, or smartphone screens can lower your blink rate by 33% overall. And blinking less often can lead to dryness, which medical experts say will worsen if you wear contact lenses.

"You may have seen your friends or co-workers sitting in front of the computer with a kind of zombie look. That alone can make your eyes dry," Shamie said.

Mile Brujic, optician and owner of Premier Vision Group, also says that complaints of eye strain, eye fatigue, and dryness of the eyes have increased as people spend more time at home.

"We were already a computer savvy society, but the pandemic only took them to the next level," Brujic said.

Tips to Relieve Eye Strain

To avoid having dry eye or eye strain prolong screen time, Brujic recommends following the rule he describes as "20-20-20". For every 20 minutes that you spend staring at a screen, take a 20 second break and look at something about 20 feet away to re-calibrate your eyes, he said.

There is also an app called Eyecare 20 20 20 on the App Store and the Google Play Store that can remind you to take those breaks. Decreasing the brightness on your computer screen can also help.

Over-the-counter "artificial tears" like xiidra and prescription eye drops can provide some relief, doctors say. However, if you continue to experience vision problems due to prolonged screen time, you should see a specialist.

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