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Top 4 Eye Health FAQs

1. Is using the computer for long periods of time damaging my eyes? 

The coronavirus pandemic has more people working remotely and spending greater amounts of time on the computer. Children learning remotely are online for hours a day.

Many patients worry that increased screen time will cause irreversible damage to their eyes.

The good news is, there is no evidence that long-term computer use leads to permanent damage to the eyes. However, many patients feel eye strain when working on the screen for long periods of time. Many of us feel our eyes becoming tired, sore, dry and irritated, sometimes with temporary blurring.

Any time we perform close-up tasks for a prolonged duration – such as reading, sewing, playing video games or watching tv – we tend to stare and blink less often. As a result, the eyes dry out and symptoms begin.

Our increased computer use isn’t going anywhere for now, so here are some measures you can take to reduce the symptoms.

1) Try to make a conscious effort to blink more frequently than you would otherwise.

2). Keep a bottle of artificial tears (not eyedrops that claim to ‘get the red out’) nearby, and use them every few hours to help lubricate the eyes.

3). Take breaks using the “20-20-20” rule. Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. Better yet, get up and walk outside for a few minutes.

4). Try prescription computer glasses. These are different from blue filtering glasses (discussed below). Some people benefit from using prescription glasses that help focus the eyes specifically at average computer distance. These can be prescribed and fitted by an optometrist. (We don’t prescribe glasses and contact lenses, because our focus is on getting you out of them with refractive surgery - but we can refer you to optometrists in the area).

 

2. Should I use special computer glasses/ blue light filtering glasses?

We’re all seeing more and more marketing touting computer glasses and blue light-blocking glasses. The claim is usually that these glasses block harmful UV radiation from computer screens. However, studies have shown that computer monitors do not produce measurable amounts of UVA/UVB radiation, so there is no ocular exposure to harmful rays from computers.

Our greatest exposure to UVA/UVB comes from the sun, which is a concern – too much sun exposure can lead to eye growths called pterygia, cataracts, certain eyelid cancers, and macular degeneration.

Though special light-filtering glasses aren’t necessary for using your computer, purchasing a good pair of sunglasses that block 100% UVA and UVB (and using them!) is definitely beneficial, especially for those spending a significant amount of time outdoors.

Blue light and sleep
Let’s take a minute to address a more significant health concern: poor sleep. Though there’s no evidence that blue screen light will damage your eyes, there is clinical evidence that it can suppress melatonin production, and this can negatively affect your sleep cycles. Chronic insomnia is associated with health problems like depression and cardiovascular disease – and it’s on the rise.

According to neurologists at the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, pandemic-era insomnia has jumped by 20-30 percent in the United States. An increased number of these insomnia sufferers are children.
Experts have even coined a term for it: ”coronasomnia.” The causes are multiple, including increased stress, disrupted daily routines – and the artificial light of screens.

Some ideas for improving your sleep:

1) Check your display settings. Many computers, tablets and phones have a setting to decrease the device’s blue light output after 9 pm. Ensure this warmer light setting is activated during evening hours (it may be automatic) so that if you are looking at your devices, at least the blue light is minimized.

2) Try to develop a wake-sleep routine that adheres to sunlight cycles. Waking up around 8:00 a.m. and going to bed when it’s dark can help get your circadian rhythms back under control.

3) Review your media “diet” and consider reducing or abstaining for a while. Avoid screens for at least an hour before bedtime - and cut down on anxiety-provoking news.

4) Prioritize healthy habits: cut back on caffeine, find time for exercise, and look for opportunities to spend time in nature.

Talk to your primary care doctor if insomnia is becoming increasingly problematic for you.

 

3. Should I be taking vitamins for my eyes to keep them healthy?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies vitamin supplements differently than medications. As a result, dietary supplement products are not reviewed for safety or effectiveness before they’re marketed.

Translation: the companies selling them don’t actually have to prove their claims.

The field of ophthalmology has seen two pivotal studies with respect to vitamin supplementation: the Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) published in 2001, and AREDS 2 published in 2013. The benefits of using these vitamins have been shown to be limited only to those patients with a diagnosis of macular degeneration. Vitamin use has neither indicated benefit for general eye health, nor been shown to prevent or treat any other eye diseases.

Keeping your eyes healthy is part of keeping your whole body healthy. Unless you've been diagnosed with macular degeneration, you’re better off focusing on overall physical health maintenance: proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep.

 

4. Are there special eye exercises that can prevent the need for reading glasses?

The short answer is, no.

Here’s the long answer. Inside the eye is a dome-shaped, flexible lens that adjusts its shape according to whether it’s focusing on far or near objects. The lens is held in place by a series of thin fibers called zonules. The eye focusing on a faraway point creates tension on the zonules, which stretches and flattens out the lens.

As an object is brought closer, the tension on these fibers is released, and the naturally elastic lens rebounds to its domed shape and capacity to focus on the closer image. As we get older, the elasticity of the lens diminishes, and along with it our ability to focus clearly on those near objects.

Since there’s no muscle acting directly onto the lens, there’s no muscle to be strengthened – which is why eye exercises are useless.

If wearing reading glasses is problematic for you, there are several surgical options that may interest you. I’m happy to discuss these in a complimentary refractive consultation.

Author
Eduardo Besser, MD Eduardo Besser, MD is an eye doctor and surgeon specializing in cataract and refractive surgery. He practices comprehensive ophthalmology in Culver City.

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