During these days of virtual learning and work-from-home Zoom meetings, issues stemming from eye strain are an increasingly common complaint. But the good news is there are measures you can take at home to relieve symptoms, and the better news is that no amount of computer use has been linked to blindness.
“Computer vision syndrome is a very real concern,” said Dr. Katie Loock, a SLUCare optometrist. “It’s impacting all of us. But I want people to know that despite the very real symptoms, which are annoying and painful and disruptive, they are not leading to irreversible long-term damage.”
Still, she cautions that problems associated with eye strain, such as blurred vision, double vision, dry or irritated eyes and even headaches and neck or back pain, should not be ignored. If you’ve tried some of the following recommendations at home without relief, it may be time for a comprehensive eye exam.
“You don’t want to suffer when there’s no need to,” Dr. Loock said. “We really can offer a lot of help for these symptoms.”
Loock, who sees patients at the Center for Specialized Medicine at 1225 South Grand, is part of a team of eye specialists at the SLUCare Sight and Sound Center who work together to see that your eyes get the care they deserve. As an optometrist, Dr. Loock is often the first eye specialist a patient sees. She may be able to solve your problem with glasses, contacts or medication. If the issue requires medical or surgical interventions, she will refer patients to an ophthalmologist.
For issues related to computer vision syndrome — which encompasses a variety of eye and vision-related problems resulting from prolonged use of computer and other screens — she offers the following at-home remedies.
20-20-20 plus 20
The 20-20-20 rule. Dr. Loock explains, “The rule of thumb is about every 20 minutes, look at least 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. Take 20 blinks for good measure. It’s a way to give your eyes a break to relax the eyes and rewet the surfaces.”
“It actually does help; I use it myself,” Dr. Loock said. “Parents need to remind kids to take little breaks and look far away, too.”
Keep the computer screen about arm’s length or about 25 inches away from your eyes. It’s best to have your eyes looking either straight ahead or slightly downward.
Reduce glare on your computer. Avoid working by a bright window and place lamps and task lights in a way that reduces glare. In addition, avoid working in too bright or too dark conditions, which make your eyes strain to work harder.
Don’t forget to blink. Blinking regularly helps keep eyes moisturized. “When we use a computer we tend to blink much less,” Dr. Loock said. “We’re just so focused, we tend to kind of stare almost zombie-like and we just forget to blink. Give your eyes a break and take time to purposefully blink your eyes a few times.” If dry eyes continue to be a problem, try over-the-counter artificial tears.
Finally, stop using devices about an hour before bedtime. The high-energy blue light coming from screens tends to be stimulating to our retinas, telling us to stay awake. Dr. Loock said the settings can sometimes be adjusted to reduce the blue lighting, and many patients have benefitted from blue light-filtering eyeglasses.
“I do think they can enhance contrasts while softening the view of the computer,” she said. There are also eyeglass lenses that provide a boost at the bottom for patients who are not ready for progressive lenses or bifocals but who need a little help with magnification when working at the computer.
Your child’s eyes
Dr. Loock said it’s never too early to have your child’s vision checked. She suggests getting a baseline eye exam for kids before they start kindergarten.
Often, nearsighted students learning in traditional classrooms are identified because they can’t see the board at the front of the room, but that’s less obvious these days when they’re learning at home.
“And farsightedness in kids gets missed all the time,” she said. “Just because they can see far away doesn’t mean they don’t need glasses. And if they can’t see up close, it’s going to be a real struggle doing school all online.