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There’s no escaping screen time. From conferencing with our colleagues to connecting with our loved ones, laptops and smartphones function to make our social worlds possible. Unfortunately, spending too much time on them can also lead to dry eyes.

How Screen Time Hurts Our Eyes

Have you ever stood up after a long day of emails and online meetings, only to find that your eyes were on fire? Normally, we generate tears every time we blink, a nourishing mixture of water, oils, and proteins that protects our eyes. These “basal tears” help wash out debris and keep our eyes well-lubricated.

Unfortunately, staring at a computer or smartphone lowers our blink rate by 66% — enough to impede the production of those all-important basal tears. That’s why our eyes tend to itch and burn at the end of a long workday.

Computer Eye Strain Symptoms

Staring at a computer for hours at a time can do more than dry out our eyes. Pay close attention to your body after a long stretch of screen time, and you might notice other signs of discomfort too.

The American Optometric Association has identified a cluster of problems associated with digital eye strain. Taken together, they form a condition called Computer Vision Syndrome. Despite its name, however, CVS has implications beyond vision alone. Common symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Light sensitivity
  • Neck, shoulder, and back pain 

Long-Term Effects of Computer Vision Syndrome

In recent years, the incidence of Computer Vision Syndrome has skyrocketed. It now affects 75% of frequent computer-users, especially those 40 and older.

Given how prevalent CVS has become, it’s no surprise that researchers are working hard to tease out its long-term impact on the body. It’s still too early to map out how computer eye strain will affect our quality of life years down the road. But while we wait for the scientific consensus to come in, it’s important to protect our eyes now. 

How to Protect Your Eyes from Computer Eye Strain

We all want to look out for our ocular health, but ditching our laptops and smartphones might not be an option. Luckily, there are strategies for protecting our eyes without sacrificing screen time entirely. 

Here are some ways to use digital devices responsibly — and keep computer eye strain symptoms at bay.

Take breaks to rest your eyes

To make sure our blink rate doesn’t dip too low, it’s important to avoid hours-long stretches of uninterrupted screen time. For an easy-to-remember strategy to give your eyes the rest they need, follow the 20-20-20-rule. After every 20 minutes of screen time, take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away.

Optimize your workspace

Our workstations aren’t always set up with our eyes in mind. To ensure your office setup isn’t making your eye strain worse, invest in an anti-glare monitor. Don’t forget to set your screen at a comfortable distance — about an arm’s length away, and level with your gaze.

Look into dry eye treatment  

If you’re already suffering from Computer Vision Syndrome, don’t panic. There are ways to restore your eye health and have you seeing comfortably again.

For mild cases of dry eye, an over-the-counter eye lubricant might relieve your symptoms. But if the gritty, fiery sensations don’t respond to non-prescription drops, you still have options for dry eye treatment.

At NeuroVisual Specialists of Florida, we bring cutting-edge expertise and state-of-the-art equipment to dry eye treatment. If your eyes itch and burn no matter what you do, give us a call at (561) 733-9008 to make an appointment today.

Dr. Erin Sonneberg, OD, received her Doctor of Optometry degree from New England School of Optometry in Boston, Massachusetts in 2004. She completed her undergraduate studies at City University of New York, Queens College in 2000, where she graduated with honors in business. Dr. Sonneberg relocated to Boynton Beach, Florida, in 2006, and has been practicing alongside prestigious ophthalmologists in the area since that time.