Pandemic care: A wellness-based approach to combating digital eye strain
I approach ocular health as part of overall wellness. The things that make our bodies and minds healthier make our eyes healthier as well.
For many people, overall wellness has declined during the pandemic as the altered reality has placed us all under extraordinary stress. Social interactions have been limited. Physical activity has declined. Nutritional habits have changed. Sleep has been disrupted. In my practice, I’m seeing more patients with symptoms related to stress, prolonged screen use and unhealthy habits. They have headaches, blurry vision, eye fatigue and ocular surface symptoms. I offer the following tips to help them understand that to take care of their eyes, they need to take care of themselves.
Stressed? Get moving and feel good. Movement is an important part of stress management. I recommend patients spend time outside, taking walks or hikes. They can also add movement to their routines with yoga, cycling, working out or whatever makes them both happy and healthy. I emphasize that in addition to daily exercise, they need to move frequently. They should get up from their chairs at least twice per hour to do an activity or stretch.
In addition to reducing stress and improving overall health, movement directly improves ocular health by providing a change of focal distance (near vs. far), environment (inside vs. outside) and blink rate (infrequent vs. normal).
Give your eyes a break. Our patients can’t keep focusing up close for hours on end. I recommend that to relax their eye muscles and alleviate tension, they should look 20 feet away for 20 seconds each time they pause in their work or take a drink of water. For a longer break, they also should eat lunch away from their computers.
Relax with blue light glasses. Today, my patients are either worried about the consequences of screen time or complaining of headaches, vision fluctuation and other symptoms of digital eye strain. I explain that blue light focuses in front of the retina, and their eyes have to work harder to see screens backlit with that particular wavelength. Blue light, which is so abundant in sunlight, also decreases melatonin production, making it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.
I strongly recommend that they wear blue light glasses for screen use, whether it’s a new pair of eyeglasses or a clear pair for contact lens wearers. Blue light glasses will help their eyes feel more relaxed and improve their sleep, which has numerous benefits for overall physical and mental wellness. I also discuss the benefits of photochromic contact lenses, Oasys with Transitions (Johnson & Johnson Vision), for blue light and light sensitivity related to digital devices.
Use artificial tears consistently. With sustained computer use, our blink rate decreases, drying the eyes. I tell patients to buy two bottles of high-quality artificial tears such as Blink (Johnson & Johnson Vision), Refresh (Allergan) or Systane (Alcon) and keep one in the bathroom to use morning and night, as well as a second bottle on their desk to use as needed. By using artificial tears consistently, rather than just when eyes feel dry, they get consistent lubrication and minimize ocular surface symptoms.
Get more comfortable in contact lenses. During the pandemic, I’ve switched a lot of patients from a monthly or 2-week schedule to a daily disposable like Acuvue Oasys 1-Day (Johnson & Johnson Vision), Dailies Total 1 (Alcon) or Biotrue OneDay (Bausch + Lomb). Many patients find daily disposables more comfortable because they are thinner and more breathable. Patients are also decreasing contact lens wear while working from home, and daily disposable lenses give patients flexibility to easily alternate between glasses and contact lenses.
For patients who want to stay in their monthly or bi-monthly lenses, I recommend a good disinfecting solution to make sure their lenses are clean and comfortable.
Practice stress eating (the healthy way). A lot of times when we’re under stress, we lean on unhealthy foods. During the pandemic, it’s especially important to eat healthy so we can build immune resilience and fortify the body to cope with stress. Diet also directly supports eye health. I recommend that patients drink plenty of water and get omega fatty acids to keep their eyes moist and comfortable. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet full of whole foods will not only help their ocular health, but also boost their overall health and energy. The foods we eat become part of our habits, and the benefits of healthy eating to patients’ overall wellness will carry them through to a post-pandemic time when life returns to normal.
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Danielle Richardson, OD, practices at Zak in Los Angeles and is the founder of Fierce Clarity.