An optician with Anderson Vision Care says there has been an increase in eye fatigue since the pandemic hit and she blames that almost entirely on an increase in screen time.
According to Lorraine Wiebe, COVID-19 has both students and working professionals spending more hours on their devices per day than they were prior to the onset of the virus.
Eye fatigue looks different for each individual. Wiebe lists itchiness, redness, soreness behind the eyes, or pain around the neck and shoulders as a few of the more common symptoms. She adds dryness is another familiar problem.
"We are so focused on what we're looking at and we don't look away, so the eyes dry over because they're not blinking enough," Wiebe says. "If we use eye drops frequently throughout the day, it certainly helps a lot."
Wiebe suggests lowering screen time as one way to deal with eye fatigue. Ideally, optometrists suggest that a person spends no more than two hours a day in front of a screen. Because that is next to impossible in this time of heavy smartphone and computer reliance, Wiebe says the next best thing is to follow what she calls the "20-20-20 rule."
As she explains, the rule encourages people to focus on an object at least 20 feet away, for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes. Wiebe notes long spurts of screen time, or even intent reading, can be very hard on people's eyes and bodies as well as they typically do not blink or move enough during those activities.
Giving your eyes a break is very important, Wiebe stresses, even if it's only trying to follow the 20-20-20 rule.
"Most people aren't going to be consistent to take a break for that length all day long, you should try at least a few times throughout your day to take a bigger break. And during that time stay off your devices, just let everything relax.
"Our nature is to be working all the time and then go check our personal emails and personal social media accounts."
The optician offers another piece of advice which involves controlling the light environment.
Wiebe says removing any glare being cast onto screens from fluorescent and LED lights is important. Special digital filters for phones and computers can help minimize glare, or one can simply position themselves in such a way where glare is not an issue.
"What we want to do is create an environment where we're not getting light cast over our shoulders and onto our pages so that there is no glare," Wiebe says.
Even before COVID-19, Wiebe says she had begun noticing a trend of poorer eye fatigue among students. She attributes that fact to classroom technology upgrades.
"Since schools started with whiteboards, we've noticed an increase in children having issues with tiredness at the end of the day. The lighting will cast a glare and they're struggling to see images clearly," she explains.
Wiebe urges adults to get their eyes checked every two years and children to visit an optometrist once a year.
"Check to see if you're needing reading glasses," she says.
"A lot of people are experiencing these problems and they've never been to an optometrist to have their eyes checked, so they don't even know that they're needing help."