Undoubtedly, there has been an unprecedented jump in the screen time that we have all engaged in ever since the pandemic has broken out. In an era of lockdowns and homestays, howsoever intermittent and episodic, not only have we remained confined indoors for longer durations, the way we function as a society has undergone a sea change. Whether it is for educational purposes, or for entertainment and leisure or for work, a full-fledged digital lifestyle has increasingly come to define us. Indeed, as part of this lifestyle change, work-from-home has become a more permanent feature of our everyday routine.

Work-from-home has an eye health cost

But do we realize that the increased adoption of work-from-home routine has a cost element involved in terms of our eye health. As we spend more and more time on digital screens including laptops, mobile phones, tablets, e-readers and even television, our eyes have an disproportionately increased exposure time to these screens fraught with considerable adverse consequences.

Characterized by a range of symptoms 

The increased screen time and the resultant eye problems can be gauged through a range of symptoms. These could be in the form of eye strain, or headaches, or blurred vision or double vision, or dry eyes or even neck and shoulder pain. Sometimes, it can even lead to disturbance in sleep patterns and difficulties in concentration apart from mental health conditions.

Computer Vision Syndrome, the big eye problem

Because of excessive screen time, we can face a number of problems in our eyes with Computer Vision Syndrome or Digital Eye Strain being one prominent example. We need to realize that the nature of demand on our eyes changes as compared to when we regularly read a printed page or write in the physical mode. Apart from the movement of our eyes, the focusing and refocusing on a computer or other digital screens requires additional efforts on the part of the eye muscles and the vision system. If we consider the glare, the contrast and the flicker of the screen, it becomes even more strenuous and uncomfortable for our eyes attempting to work on the screens. Also, while we are engrossed with our screens, we tend to blink less which leads to dry eyes with related consequences. People touching forty particularly have to exert more since their natural lenses become less flexible.   

Those wearing eyewear also have problems

While people with unaddressed or under-addressed vision issues will have more problems for obvious reasons, those wearing some eyewear such as eyeglasses and lenses also need to be equally careful. Screen use, particularly at home is often associated with improper posture and improper home lighting. The viewer is often forced to bend his head, not just aggravating discomfort to eyes but also causing back and neck pain.

What should one do?

Of course, reducing or ‘right-sizing’ the screen time is the first step that one has to consider. Second, placing the computer or other screen in sufficiently lit space must become a priority. Third, adequate distance preferably at an arm’s length and at appropriate viewing angle between the individual and the screen must be maintained. Fourth, glasses and lenses filtering blue rays and with UV protection should be taken recourse to. And fifth and very importantly, one must observe the 20-20-20 rule meaning that every 20 minutes, a person using screen should look about 20 feet away for at least twenty seconds. This would give the eyes much-needed rest on a regular basis.

Therefore, while work-from-home and the consequent increased screen time has many advantages, there are downsides too with respect to our eye health. A study reports that nearly 23% of Indian population had suffered some level of weakening eyesight during the pandemic-driven increased homestays. As such, while we can’t do away with our screens completely, we must exercise caution. Moderation is the keyword here.  

By Dr.Tushar Grover, Medical Director, Vision Eye Centre, New Delhi