While many people are moving towards in-person learning and work in the fall, screens still play a dominant role in our lives. Dr. Kenneth Eng, chief of the department of ophthalmology and vision sciences at Sunnybrook, discusses how the realities of the pandemic have impacted eye health, and his best advice for all ages in safeguarding their vision.
What effects of the pandemic have you seen?
Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a dramatic rise in the rate of screen time for both children and adults. Whether or not that has led to a specific increase in certain conditions is being monitored, and more time will be needed to answer that conclusively.
What we do know across the profession is that many patients have been avoiding care for their eyes, and that includes routine exams and assessment of acute and chronic eye symptoms. Some patients missed appointments early on because they were deferred. While community and hospital clinics are now fully open again, the number of patients seeking care still appears to be down.
Some patients may feel nervous to come into a clinic or hospital setting, but it’s important for them to know that there are many layers of safety protocols in place to keep everyone safe.
How often are eye exams needed?
For most healthy children and adults, they should continue seeing their community eye specialist every 1-2 years for screening and to assess the need for glasses. Here at Sunnybrook, where we see patients needing more specialized care, we know that there are many conditions that can progress and threaten vision if people don’t seek timely care. Some of those include age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, retinal detachment and tumours of the eyelids.
How has increased screen time impacted our eyes?
When people spend time in front of screens, they tend to blink less, meaning the eye tends to dry out faster. Dry eyes can feel itchy and irritated and are a common problem. Thankfully, this condition is relatively mild and reversible in most people.
If this is something you are experiencing, take frequent breaks from your screen whenever possible. Artificial tear drops, available at your pharmacy, can also help. For people who wear contact lenses, some may find some comfort in removing them and wearing glasses more often if a significant amount of screen time is required. If these approaches don’t offer any relief, your eye doctor may recommend an approach that’s done in clinic called punctal occlusion. During this procedure, small plugs are implanted into the tear duct openings to prevent tears from draining away from the eye as quickly.
It’s important to note that some medications, like anti-depressants, can also increase dry eye symptoms. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you need more information.
Have masks affected our eye health?
The biggest effect appears to be an increased risk of dry eyes. To minimize air flow from coming up from your mask into your eyes, be sure your mask fits properly. That means the wire should conform snugly to the bridge of your nose.
Any other advice on balancing eye health with screen time?
While screens are a reality in our lives, try to limit the amount of time you spend in front of them. Also, take frequent breaks when doing any screen work. We often talk about the 20-20-20 rule, where you should look away from your screen every 20 minutes, focusing on something that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Cutting down on the glare of your screen may help, by either lowering the brightness on your device or using a filter. Also, make sure the screen you are working on is a safe distance away from your face, which should be about an arm’s length away.
No matter how much time you spend on screens, pay attention to how your eyes are feeling. You don’t want to risk permanent damage to your vision by not getting timely care.