What Covid-19 lockdowns are doing to our eyes
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Kiwis have been spending more time online for work, school, and entertainment, something Auckland optometrist, Karthi Param, says can create problems for our eyes.
Research conducted by Specsavers in January 2020 showed the majority of Kiwi office workers were already experiencing symptoms of digital eye strain, with 86 per cent of people claiming to have experienced at least one symptom while at work. Comparative data from October 2021 now shows that number has increased to 93 per cent.
Symptoms of digital eye strain include dry or irritated eyes, blurred vision, difficulty focusing, sensitivity to light, eye fatigue, sore neck, headaches, and difficulty reading small print.
“Last year, we predicted an increase in Kiwis experiencing digital eye strain due to level three and four restrictions. This year, overwhelmingly, it seems like digital eye strain is becoming even more of an issue, and I suspect there are many more Kiwis out there who do not realise their symptoms are due to excessive screen time,” says Karthi.
This year’s research shows that 87 per cent of respondents who experience symptoms of digital eye strain when working from home have also seen a big increase in remote working in the last 18 months.
Almost nine in ten (88 per cent) of these respondents state that their overall screen time increased when at home due to lockdowns, with the majority (68 per cent) reporting increases of at least 50 per cent more screen time.
The regularity, severity and impact of symptoms have all increased, with one in seven saying they experience more symptoms and half reporting an increase in the severity of symptoms when working from home due to COVID.
A further 55 per cent are needing to take longer breaks, and 76 per cent believe the symptoms have a greater impact on their productivity.
Even pre level four restrictions in August 2021, Karthi says he saw an increase in patients expressing signs of digital eye strain.
“With the lifestyles we lead now this problem isn’t going to go away, thankfully, there are a few simple ways to combat the problem, while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions.”
When it comes to the symptoms Kiwis are experiencing, pre-COVID, 42 per ceny reported sore, tired, burning or itchy eyes in January 2020, a figure that has increased to 51 per cent in 2021. Those experiencing blurred or double vision has risen from 21 per cent to 26 per cent.
On average, 29 per cent of those experiencing symptoms are suffering at least daily, a figure that sat at 13 per cent at the beginning of 2020, and 75 per cent suffer at least weekly, up from 52 per cent.
Karthi says the good news is most, if not all, symptoms of digital eye strain can be easily reduced by taking regular breaks, drinking lots of water, blinking as often as possible, and making sure your screen is set up correctly.
Tips to prevent and reduce digital eye strain when working from home:
• Blink! Humans normally blink about 15 times a minute. Make a conscious effort to blink as often as possible. This keeps the surface of your eyes from drying out. You might even want to put a sticky note on your computer screen reminding you to blink often!
• Drink lots of water. Your eyes also dry out when you’re dehydrated so it’s important to keep up your fluid intake when sitting in front of a screen all day.
• Follow the “20-20-20” Rule. Take regular breaks to give your eyes a rest: every 20 minutes shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 meters away, for at least 20 seconds. The easiest way to do this is to look out your window at something outside.
• Adjust brightness and contrast. If your screen glows brighter than your surroundings, your eyes have to work harder to see. Adjust your screen brightness to match the level of light around you. Also, try increasing the contrast on your screen to reduce eye strain.
• Reduce the glare. The screens on today’s digital devices often have a lot of glare. Try using a matte screen filter to cut glare or simply cover your windows to avoid outside light shining on your screen
• Adjust your position at the computer. When using a computer, you should be sitting about 60cm (about at arm's length) from the screen. Also, position the screen so your eyes gaze slightly downward, not straight ahead or up.