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Digital Eyestrain Is As Common As Ever, So Here's What You Can Do To Prevent It

Tired eyes all the time? We feel you!

If you were wondering about eye strain, or more specifically, digital eye strain, you've come to the right place.

These days, the question to ask about the condition is who's experienced it in the last few months, but who hasn't? 

Digital eye strain has become one of the most Googled health conditions as of late, but that shouldn't really surprise you. Everything we need and want to do these days happens on our phone or laptops, and we pretty much have been living life on our screens. When we work, we're on our laptops. When we want to unwind, we're on Netflix/social media. When we shop for food and other things, we're on one app or another. And when we miss family and friends, we give them a (video) call.

It's a terrible thing to be abusing (yes, we're going to use that word) our eyes but the thing is, there really is no alternative. The most we can do is to learn how to give our proper eyes a break when (when, and not if) we decide to do non-phone/laptop activities, so we're here to do just that. 

Below, we give you useful tips for how to take much better care of your eyes in a time when we need them more than ever!

Image from Pexels

If you've suspected that you've suffered, or are suffering from digital eye strain, don't fret because first, it's incredibly common and second, there are practical and manageable ways to combat it. 

The first thing you should know about the condition is that it usually comes about when you engage in an activity that demands that your eye muscles focus on something at a short distance for a prolonged amount of time. 

Digital eyestrain, as you might have already guessed, happens when we're on our screens for too long. Other factors that contribute to digital eyestrain are the fact that we expose our eyes to very bright lights or reflective surfaces, force our eyes to adjust if we view our screens at different angles (think of all the times you used your phone while laying on your side in bed), or when we use an incorrect level of brightness/contrast and demand our eyes to do double duty by forcing them to make sense of words/images that are too dark. Using teeny tiny fonts also does nothing for our eyes as they strain to focus even more on text to make it understandable to us. 

We've all been guilty of this at one point.

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Some of the ways digital eyestrain manifest include:

  • Watery or teary eyes
  • Or dry eyes, in contrast
  • Increased eye discharge/crusty eyes
  • Eye redness 
  • Stinging, especially when you blink or close your eyes
  • Blurred vision 
  • Pain, tenderness, or a swollen sensation around the eye sockets 
  • A droopy feeling in your eyelids (as if you're unable to stay awake or keep your eyes open) 
  • Light sensitivity 
  • Nausea or dizziness 

You might also recall that you've been getting back and shoulder aches, migraines, and stiff necks more than usual as compared to pre-COVID life when we had arguably less screen time. That's because incorrect posture puts pressure on our shoulder, upper back, and neck muscles, and in turn, these muscles could press on nerves that connect them to our eyes. (Is your home-based work station ergonomic or do you just sit wherever you feel like to do that day's work?)

So even though your eyes might not be the problem per se, you can still experience digital eyestrain as a consequence of other body parts suffering from prolonged screen time. Note that the most important thing here the number of hours we spend on our screens. Two hours, uninterrupted, is the ballpark figure for how long we can or should be on our gadgets before giving our eyes a break.


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So now that you know the basics of digital eyestrain and have a better idea of what you might have been doing to cause it, the next thing we'll want to talk about is how to prevent it without medication or seeing a doctor. Homebased remedies are usually effective in battling digital eyestrain given that it's more of bad habit screen habits that cause (rather than a health condition) and that bad habits can fortunately be changed. 

Here's what you can do to help yourself out:

1. Don't reach the two hour limit that we described above, or if it helps, set a timer on your phone to know when to stand up and take a screen break. A screen break can just be 10-15 minutes long, and you can do one of two things: close your eyes, or un-focus them. If you're lucky enough to have a window that affords you a view where you can look into distance, do it—look into the distance. You help your eye muscles release tension from focusing on a short-distance object like a screen. 

*Extra tip: There's also the 20-20-20 second rule. You can remember to look at something that is 20 feet away from you for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes. 

2. Surround yourself with greens and blues, especially light shades. Consider maybe placing a potted plant or two in your workstation or a picture with imagery of these colors like a beach or a mountainside. The wavelengths of these colors are much shorter compared to others colors, and in layman's words, what that means for us is that they're less harsh on our eyes to look at. When your eyes are feeling tired, take them away from your screen and focus on the green and blue items around you. 

3. Distance matters. If you're working on a desk for the most part, your laptop or computer should be at an arm's length away from you. It also shouldn't be positioned too high up and should instead be below eye level. (This mostly addresses the problem of muscle strain affecting eye nerves). 

4. Did you know that air affects eyes too? This is especially true for us who work in humid environments, because that means we always have air condition on or a fan facing us. While it's good to keep our devices cool this way, this can wreck havoc on our eyes by drying them out. The eyestrain paired with dry air makes our eyes get tired even faster. The solution is to pair whatever cooling method you use by placing a humidifier near you.

5. Invest in proper eyewear. Even though you have 20/20 vision, your eyes are not immune from the stresses of screen time. Most optical shops can fit you with glasses that don't necessarily have a grade, but whose lenses offer protective films designed especially for people who are on their screens for most of the day.

6. And while you're at, invest in an ergonomic workstation. This isn't just good for your eyes, but for your whole body! This was the first thing a lot of people took care of in 2020 when it became clear that most of life's regular activities were going to transfer indoors. Even though it might be expensive to buy an ergonomic chair, a much better desk, and even a laptop stand and a proper reading lamp, all of it will do you good and will remain useful even when COVID is over.

7. Have eyedrops ready. This is especially helpful for people who are prone to dry eyes. Eyedrops soothe tired eyes right away, and are easily accessible in most pharmacies without a prescription.

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In some cases, digital eyestrain might not be plain old eyestrain. There might be an underlying condition that needs to be checked out by a doctor. Now there's no way you can gauge for yourself if what you have is simply strained eyes or something that needs medical attention, but there are things you can watch out for that could signal the need to make a doctor's appointment.

Be observant of: 

  • Disturbed sleep: Sometimes, eyes can't relax even when we've turned off our computers or put down our phones. This causes eyes (and ourselves) to feel restless and unable to wind down at bedtime.

  • Your current glasses/contacts not helping as much: You might notice that your glasses/contacts are suddenly not working as they should and your vision is blurry, but it isn't time for your annual eye checkup just yet. Or, you just had your grade adjusted, which means it's odd to need yet another adjustment so soon. Your eyes might have suffered damage or injury from something else and you might not be dealing with plain old eyestrain. 

  • Eye discomfort: Your eyes might hurt, even when you're not on your screen as much or if you've been away from it for the whole day. The thing with digital eyestrain is that it should be easy to treat, more or less, because eyes get to relax overnight when we sleep. You shouldn't be waking up with tired eyes or they shouldn't feel tired anymore after you've done the steps to help them relax. In some cases, painful eyes can signal problems with your retinas. 

  • Age-related conditions: All of us are bound to develop eye conditions as time goes by. You might be at risk for cataracts and/or glaucoma, so if you suspect that you might have either of those, it's time to see the doctor. 

In any case, following our tips for preventing digital eyestrain can help regardless of whether or not there is an underlying medical condition that needs to be examined.

And with the current work from home setup and quarantine life not ending any time soon, now is as good as time as ever for taking the best care of your eyes!

Opening images from Pexels