HiDoc Pulse speaks to Dr Errol Chan, Consultant Ophthalmologist at LSC Eye Clinic, to learn 5 simple ways we can better care for our peepers, to help them stay healthy as we stay home.
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Work-from-home and home-based learning has raised screen time on digital devices, along with the need for online social activities and retail purchases too. As COVID-19 protocols for social distancing push us towards digitalising much of daily life, it has become critical to protect our eyes from the effects of extended screen time.
“In my practice, I’ve seen an increase of 20% to 30% that’s attributable to computer devices, mainly due to working from home and attending e-training courses,” observes Dr Errol Chan, who specialises in eye, cataract and retinal diseases and surgery.
When the workday ends, eyes are still glued to screens for recreation. An April 2020 study by GlobalWebIndex found that almost half of Internet users (aged 16 to 64) in Singapore it surveyed had spent more time shopping online in recent weeks, the third-highest out of 18 countries. The same study also found that 39% of Internet users in Singapore surveyed had spent more time using social media in recent weeks.
As countries move towards re-opening protocols that help manage behaviours, in Asia, economies such as Hong Kong and Taiwan have adopted a “suppress and lift” strategy that contains the outbreak at an acceptable social-economic cost. Social distancing measures are enforced when the virus transmission rate is high and loosened when it drops. In Singapore, allied health services (such as dietetics and psychology services) have been allowed to operate again, but work-from-home measures that began in early April will continue as Singapore transitions to Phase One (“Safe Re-opening”) on June 2, 2020.
With socialising and face-to-face interactions increasingly transposed into our screens, here’s how you can prevent your eyes from the harmful effects of extended exposure.
6 signs you’re suffering digital eye strain
Overuse of electronic devices (such as our smartphones and laptops) can lead to “digital eye strain”, as it is commonly termed. “It can affect your quality of life, as your ability to enjoy leisure activities is compromised. Digital eye strain can also reduce productivity at work due to the discomfort experienced,” Dr Chan says.
Digital eye strain can lead to frustrating and persistent eye symptoms such as:
● Blurry vision
● Eye discomfort
● Itchy eyes
● Excessive tearing
● Bloodshot eyes
● Dizziness and headaches
Fortunately, digital eye strain has no lasting impact on your overall eye health, provided you put down your smartphone. Besides giving your eyes regular breaks, here are 5 ways you can proactively safeguard your eye health.
1. Get a pair of glasses that’s specific for screen use
Glasses prescribed specifically for digital screen use can be helpful in keeping your eyes healthy, says Dr Chan.
Special coatings on the lenses help maximize comfort and vision when working on your laptop. For example, anti-glare glasses help improve contrast with digital screens by reducing the amount of light reflecting off the front and back surfaces of the glasses.
This means that individuals who do not need any spectacle prescription for their vision can also benefit from wearing glasses.
2. Use proper lighting
Eye strain can be caused by excessively bright light, such as excessively bright interior lighting.
Computer and television screens should be positioned away from windows with sunlight streaming in, or with bright sunlight behind them. Anti-glare reflectors are also a good option to consider. Install them on screens to reduce screen glare and improve contrast.
Ceiling fluorescent lights contribute towards a lot of reduced contrast with screens. “Where possible, reducing the intensity of the lighting helps decrease glare,” Dr Chan says. If you use a desk lamp, make sure that it is directed away from the screen. Not doing so could cause excessive reflection that discomforts your eyes.
3. Rest and blink
Schedule regular breaks for your eyes to prevent eye strain, especially if you use the computer for long periods. Rest your eyes for 15 minutes after an hour of continuous computer use by closing them. Doing so allows your eyelids to bring a good layer of tears to moisten your corneas.
“Another good rule of thumb is to rest your eyes after every 20 minute-period of computer use. Look into the distance for 20 seconds to give your eyes a chance to refocus. Do this simple exercise 10 times before you return to your screen,” Dr Chan says.
Also, make an effort to blink frequently. Prolonged screen time often makes us so engrossed that we forget to blink. Blinking encourages tear production and helps keep our eyes moist and healthy.
4. Set up your workstation with ergonomics in mind
It may not seem like much, but the positioning of your computer screen and chair matters when it comes to your eye health!
The optimal position of the computer screen should be about 10 to 15 degrees below your eye level, which works out to about 3 or 4 inches from the centre of the screen. The screen should also be at a distance of 20 to 30 inches from your eyes.
Changes to the chair height should therefore take into consideration these distances, as well as the need to allow the arm and wrist to rest comfortably for keyboard and mouse usage.
5. Lubricate your eyes often
There are many over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops which can be used for immediate relief of dry eye symptoms. Regular use of these drops improves the tear film and thus the eye surface. These drops can be purchased at retail pharmacies and most supermarkets.
Ran out of eye drops? Simply splash some tap water onto your eyes when you wash your face. However, the relief lasts for only a short time as water doesn’t coat the eye surface well and runs off very quickly. This means your eyes will become dry again, especially if you resume screen activity.
Where possible, opt for preservative-free lubricant eye drops if you require eye drops fairly frequently. Preservative-free drops come in unit dose vials, instead of bottles. The most common preservatives used are benzalkonium chloride, Purite, or Polyquad — so look for these in the fine print in the labels. Without preservatives however, the shelf-life of eye drops is much shorter once the container has been opened, and each vial is manufactured such that it has to be used within the day.
If your eyes are still experiencing considerable difficulty with digital screens, even after adopting the above care measures, you may have an underlying dry eye or gland problem that requires proper assessment by an ophthalmologist.
Teleconsultations enable ophthalmologists to extend their duty of care
Teleconsultations, the use of telecommunication and information technology to provide clinical healthcare remotely, is a new and accessible channel for patients to virtually consult with a specialist, such as Dr Chan. Patients can remotely seek consultation for advice on dry eye disease and the digital eye strain that comes with staring at screens all day. Through the teleconsultation portal, patients would be able to seek advice on the most appropriate over-the-counter lubricant eye drops they ought to be using, or whether stronger lubricating eye drops are required.
“Teleconsultations can also provide peace of mind for patients. Using just their smartphone, they can make a quick check with the eye doctor whether what they are experiencing with their eyes is a self-limiting condition that will clear up on its own, or requires a physical visit to the clinic,” Dr Chan says. “Through teleconsultation, the doctor is able to determine if the patient’s symptoms are significant enough to warrant an in-person consultation and eye assessment at the clinic, where more intensive therapies can be prescribed.”
Patients who require follow-up consultations for various eye conditions, such as inflammatory or allergic eye disease, or viral conjunctivitis (i.e., sore eyes) can also use teleconsultations, provided they have recently been examined by an eye doctor in the clinic.
“Teleconsultations are helpful for patients who have the occasional trouble seeing a doctor in person, as the doctor, who has foreknowledge of their eye condition and needs only to look out for specific details, can then remotely assess their symptoms and provide advice. For instance, based on the patient’s progress, the doctor would be able to decide on whether alterations to the current medication schedule need to be made,” explains Dr Chan.
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