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What You Should Know About Eye Care And Screen Time During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Because you're not getting off your phone anytime soon.

Blink a few times. Feel better? If you’ve been home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, your eyes are probably bone-dry from looking at a computer or phone screen all day.

The obvious solution to this very preventable problem is to stop looking at screens. But for many, especially those working from home or attending online classes, reducing screen time is easier said than done.

That’s without even mentioning how screens have become a primary mode of socializing and keeping spirits up during these uncertain times. If Zoom calls and Netflix marathons are part of your self-care regimen, taking care of one’s ocular health may seem like a secondary concern.

We asked eye-care experts what Canadians should know about their eye health during COVID-19:

First off, your dry eyes don’t mean your health is at risk

Dr. Raj Rathee, chair of Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, notes that many Canadians are afraid that mild issues with their eyes are harmful. In reality, screen fatigue during the pandemic will likely have no lasting impact on your overall health.

“Fatigue, dry eyes, screen fatigue, they’re all annoyances. They can affect your long-term health [if they become chronic conditions] ... I underline this a thousand times, because fear of consequences is a big problem.”

He says the danger of overusing screens comes from the lack of blinking, which happens because of how hard someone may concentrate on what they’re seeing.

Blink if you're reading this photo caption.
MangoStar_Studio via Getty Images
Blink if you're reading this photo caption.

Instead of “over-researching” your dry and screen-strained eyes, which may contribute to unnecessary health anxiety, he suggests informing yourself with a few reliable sources, such as trust-worthy eye-care websites like the Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology and government sources. And if you’re dealing with a severe eye concern such as injury or sudden vision loss consult with a medical professional; as they offer essential services, opthamologists are still seeing patients.

Try the 20/20/20 exercise

Dr. Yvonne Buys, a University of Toronto professor in the department of ophthalmology and president of the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, notes that many eye-care experts recommend the 20/20/20 exercise to people dealing with screen-related eye fatigue.

“Every 20 minutes that you’ve been on the screen, take a 20-second break,” Buys advises. During that break, she suggests looking at something around 20 feet away in order to relax some of the muscles in your eye.

Bump up your text size

Different reasons for eye issues require different approaches. If your eyes aren’t dry, but are strained by looking at a screen, Buys notes that it may be helpful to increase your device’s font size.

Buying glasses with blue light filters — worth it?

A common belief is that blue light from screens causes eye problems, which has led to a market for eyewear that can filter out blue light. But think twice before you add a similar product to your online shopping cart.

Watch: Blue light might not actually be that bad for you after all. Story continues below.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology went on record to shut this notion down, stating that there’s “no evidence that the kind or amount of light coming from computer screens is damaging to the eyes.”

Use eye drops generously

Rathee says people with dry eyes shouldn’t worry about overusing eye lubricants like artificial tears.

Liberal use of artificial tears is perfectly fine if you have screen fatigue.
SelectStock via Getty Images
Liberal use of artificial tears is perfectly fine if you have screen fatigue.

“People think drops are some kind of medicine,” he said. “Just like moisturizer we put on our skin, moisturizing drops can help prevent things from getting worse.”

Drinking water can also help re-hydrate your system, he adds.

A compress can work wonders

Dry and strained eyes can also be soothed with warm compresses applied a few times daily, Rathee notes.

If you don’t own a store-bought gel compress, it’s easy to DIY at home: A towel soaked with warm water can be placed on closed eyes for a few minutes.

However, if eyes are itchy, due to irritation caused by allergies or dust, for example, a cold compress is more effective.

Could eye pain be a COVID-19 symptom?

Data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz noted a spike in online searches of “my eyes hurt” in regions with high amounts of reported COVID-19 cases, suggesting that eye pain may be an underreported symptom of the disease.

However, Rathee cautions against thinking eye annoyances or eye pain in isolation is a symptom of having contracted the virus as Canadian eye experts haven’t found a link and any theories are currently conjecture.

While eye pain alone may not be confirmed as a COVID-19 symptom, pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, has been confirmed as a presenting symptom among cases, Buys says. She also adds that the Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology detailed a case earlier this month where conjunctivitis was a presenting symptom.

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