Dry Eye and Computer Vision Syndrome
Dry eye is a common problem that often worsens with aging. Symptoms include eye itchiness, burning, a scratchy feeling, blurred vision, and/or watery eyes. This can be a temporary problem caused by air conditioning, wind, smoke, dry heat, a dry or dusty environment, prolonged screen time, or even eating spicy foods.
Chronic dry eye is usually caused by a problem producing meibum, the oil that is a necessary part of tears and keeps the front of the eye lubricated. The oil is made in tiny glands on the edge of each eyelid. When those glands become clogged or inflamed, they can’t release this oil. The abnormally tears lack sufficient oil and are watery, and they can’t protect the eye or nourish it adequately. Severe chronic dry eye can result in an infection or even a loss of vision.
Some medications can also cause or contribute to drying out of the surface of the eye:
Oral contraceptive (birth control pills)
Antihistamines, especially the older ones like diphenhyrdramine (Benadryl, etc.)
Diuretics and certain other blood pressure medications
A medication for severe acne called isotretinoin
Some medications for gastrointestinal problems such as those for diarrhea
Some sedatives (tranquilizers) and antidepressants
Dry eyes are common with prolonged reading, watching television or looking at a computer screen because you blink less often and blinking helps release the oil needed for healthy tears. It is good to take a break from those activities every 10 minutes or so and fully closing your eyes, with upper and lower lids touching, for 2 seconds. Also, wear glasses or sunglasses when exposed to wind and use a humidifier to keep the air moist, and avoid smoke and fans. You can also hold a warm, clean washcloth to your eyes for 10 to 15 minutes a day. That will help unclog the oil glands. Artificial tears also can help prevent and treat chronic dry eye.
Computer vision syndrome can occur in those who spend two or more continuous hours a day focused on a computer screen or other similar screen. It is caused by sitting closer than 2 feet from a screen, requiring prolonged contraction of circular muscles needed to focus at a close proximity to the eyes. This prolonged straining can make it difficult for the muscles to relax, leading to blurred vision. It can also result in headaches, dry eyes, or decreased visual acuity.
These problems can be prevented by following the 20-20-20 rule (no pun intended but it may help preserve 20/20 vision). This rule is a good reminder to look away from screens every 20 minutes for 20 seconds and focus instead on something 20 feet away. Try to keep eyes level with the top of your computer monitor since your eyes focus optimally when you’re looking downward. Also, partially closed eyes have less surface area for tear evaporation, lessening eye dryness. Decreasing glare can be helpful too. It is important to keep any corrective lens prescription up-to-date.
Eye drops that reverse eye redness are actually harmful. They decrease blood flow through small blood vessels on the surface of the eye and if used repeatedly, can cause rebound redness, inflammation or even injury to the cornea.
Contacts should never be worn longer than prescribed. Good hand washing before putting them in is also critical. Some eye infections can be very difficult to treat and even lead to permanent eye damage.
Dark green, leafy vegetables, salmon, eggs, and ground flaxseed support healthy eyes. Some research also suggests that vitamin C, zinc, copper, vitamin E, and beta carotene may also benefit the eyes. Being able to see is miraculous. These few steps are pretty cheap insurance to keep the eyes working well.