What is “dry eye” and how to treat it
Dry eye can be anything from a mild annoyance that affects you from time to time to an unrelenting condition that makes it hard to use your eyes for any extended period.
Not least due to our unhealthy media habits and tendency to spend most of our lives indoors, more and more of us are joining this first group and experiencing occasional symptoms of dry eye. Our eyes simply weren’t designed to endure six back-to-back episodes of Orange is The New Black or play Candy Crush for three hours without blinking.
This phenomenon is known as Digital Eye Syndrome or Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). It arises because when looking at a screen our eyes have to constantly refocus to process the millions of tiny pixels that make up the graphic and text. In addition to this we reduce our blink rate, not allowing the tears to spread over the eye and lubricate.
The thing is, activities like these are part of modern life. And for most of us it’s impossible to avoid staring at a screen all day or sitting in an air conditioned office (okay, maybe we can cut down on Candy Crush). And as we can’t really wait a few hundred or thousand years for evolution to catch up, it’s up to us to manage the symptoms before dry eye starts to really disrupt our lives.
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But our smartphone-hugging hermit lifestyle isn’t the only thing to blame for dry eye. In fact, dry eye can result from a wide range of causes including infections, allergies, pregnancy, exposure to irritants, hormone replacement therapy, medications like blood pressure tablets and anti-depressants, and even not closing your eyes properly while asleep.
So how do you know if you suffer from dry eye? Well, according to the National Eye Institute, the symptoms of dry eye can include any of the following:
- Episodes of blurred vision
- Decreased tolerance of reading, working on the computer, or any activity that requires sustained visual attention
- Stinging or burning of the eye
- A sandy or gritty feeling as if something is in the eye
- Episodes of excess tears following very dry eye periods
- Eye fatigue
- A stringy discharge from the eye
- Pain and redness of the eye
- Heavy eyelids
- Inability to cry when emotionally stressed
- Uncomfortable contact lenses
Dry eye is certainly not something you want to ignore. Left untreated, it can lead to pain, ulcers, scars, and even loss of vision. So if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s recommended to see an eye care professional to get an accurate diagnosis and begin treatment if necessary.
Preventing and treating dry eye
Other than moving to the country and living a life free of drugs and technology, it can be hard to eliminate all the factors that exacerbate dry eye. However, there are a few things you can do to help keep your eyes moist and in good shape. These include eating well, drinking lots of water, and reducing exposure to things like chemical fumes, tobacco smoke, and drafts from air conditioning or heating. But the most beneficial step you can take is in managing your digital media use.
When looking at a screen, our blinking rate cuts in half. To help prevent your eyes from losing too much moisture and leading to full blown CVS, follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at something that is 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This gives your eyes a break, allowing them to refocus and avoid becoming strained.
You could go one better and use this rule alongside the Pomodoro time management technique. Using a Pomodoro timer, split your time into 25-minute intervals and 5-minute breaks. If working at a desk, this reminds you to look away from the screen every so often or, if you’re going to be in front of the screen for an extended period, apply lubricated drops to keep your eyes moist and comfortable.
Finally, ensure your environment caters to good eye health. Dim any harsh overhead lights, use an ergonomic chair and sit with the screen 20-26 inches away from you and tilted slightly backwards, and adjust the contrast and brightness of your screen accordingly.
Follow these steps and you can look forward to a long life of healthy and trouble-free vision!