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How to mitigate digital eye strain

We are in the midst of what is essentially a government-advised screen-time binge. From work and working out to socializing and entertainment, many — if not most — of our daily activities are facilitated by screens as we continue to practice physical distancing.

Most of us are spending more time in front of our computers, tablets and phones than ever before: and the average Canadian spent 11 hours looking at screens each day before the coronavirus outbreak.

While technology is making it easier for us to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, our eyes are suffering.

According to Kathleen Digre, chief of the division of headaches and neuro-ophthalmology at the University of Utah’s John A. Moran Eye Center, digital eye strain — also known as computer vision syndrome and caused by prolonged screen time — is unsurprisingly on the rise. Its symptoms include headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes and neck and shoulder pain; and although they are most often temporary, they add discomfort during an already-difficult time.

Here’s how to protect yourself from digital eye strain:

1. Apply the 20-20-20 rule.

For every 20 minutes of screen time, look away from your screen and focus on an object located 20 feet away for a minimum of 20 seconds.


2. Eat eye-healthy foods.

A balanced diet full of colour and variety is essential for eye health. In particular, vitamin A helps maintain normal vision and keep the corneas healthy, while Omega-3 fats can help to prevent blurry vision and pain caused by eye inflammation. Consider consuming more eggs, firm goat cheese and mackerel as they are good sources of preformed vitamin A, as well as oily fish, flax seeds, hemp  hearts, chia seeds and walnuts, which are good sources of Omega-3 fats. Vitamin E found in whole grains, nuts, and seeds is also important to help prevent cataracts. Get personalized nutrition advice during a phone consultation with one of our registered dietitians. 

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3. Rest your eyes.

Contrary to this expression, which suggests taking a nap, resting your eyes means walking away from your screen and changing settings. Do this several times a day for 5-10 minutes by stepping outside for some natural light, preparing a meal, or looking out a window.

4. Modify your work station.

Position your computer screen so it’s 20 to 24 inches away from your eyes. The centre of your screen should be 10 to 15 degrees below your eyes for comfortable positioning of your head and neck. Adjust your computer’s screen settings as well. The text should be easy to read and the white background on a webpage should not look like a light source; if it does, it’s too bright.

5. Consider investing in blue light-blocking glasses.

Designed to block or reduce the blue light emitted by screens, glasses with blue light-blocking lenses may reduce eye strain and even improve your sleep quality. A 2017 study by the University of Houston determined that participants who wore blue light glasses showed a more than 50% increase in nighttime melatonin production — that’s the hormone that helps the body transition to sleep mode.

6. Practice simple eye exercises.

You guessed it — even your eyes need exercise in order to perform optimally. Try this one after prolonged computer work: look far away at a distant object for 10-15 seconds, then gaze at something up close for 10-15 seconds. Repeat this 10 times. For more eye exercises, download our free 2020 Eye Exercise Calendar here.


Your eyes and COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that the novel coronavirus is transmissible through the eyes. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that contact lens wearers switch to glasses temporarily as a way to reduce their risk of contracting the virus. The WHO also recommends the wearing of safety glasses for people who provide regular care to those infected with COVID-19. Do you have questions or concerns about your eye health? Contact your ophthalmologist or get real-time advice from a clinician through your virtual care platform.

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