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Clinical Pearls - Screen Time During Quarantine

24 Apr 2020 1:54 PM | Anonymous

Screen Time During Quarantine

It seems like over-night covid-19 hit and suddenly, we are stuck at home with nothing but our screens to entertain us. While for our inner introvert this may be the ultimate dream it also has its pitfalls. Our social lives, work lives and CPD events have all moved online. With increased time at home & our lives now virtual, our screens are the portals to the world. Even before corona virus, Australians on average spent over 10 hours a day on screens. Also, many of us use multiple devices at the same time e.g. looking at your phone while also watching TV. It is only natural that screen use will increase in the current situation.

While increased screen use will not damage your eyes, the increased demand on your eyes can have negative effects. Often the underlying cause is a borderline eye problem that has been exacerbated by the increased screen time. This is because the visual demands of computer work are unlike those associated with most other visual tasks. Most people will experience some form of Digital Eye Strain with sustained use of a digital device. It may present as eye strain, headaches/migraines, blurred vision, neck/back pain, dry eyes, and/or reduced concentration. You may also find it hard to switch off and have disrupted sleep.

The good news is that there are 10 easy things that you can do to limit the negative effects associated with screen use:

  1. Up-to-date prescription: even small changes in prescription such as small amounts of undiagnosed & uncorrected hyperopia, astigmatism & binocular vision issues can cause computer vision problems. We should look after our own eyes the way we look after our patients and make sure that we get our eyes tested regularly.
  2. Optimized computer eyewear: for the greatest comfort at your computer, you will likely benefit from having customized computer glasses. As optometrists we are up to date with the latest lens technology and should use this to our advantage. 
  3. Take mini breaks: this helps to reduce focusing fatigue and accommodative spasm. The 20/20/20 rule is an easy way to implement this; every 20 minutes of screen time, take a 20 second break and look 20 feet (6 meters) away.
  4. Stay hydrated: make sure you are drinking water throughout the day to hydrate your body. Additionally, use lubricating eye drops to hydrate your eyes. Nutritional supplements such as omega 3 can also be beneficial in optimizing tear film quality.
  5. Blink: do not forget to blink. It is well known that people blink less frequently while working on screens which can cause dry & irritated eyes.
  6. Blue light protection: there is a link between eye strain & blue light emitted from digital devices. A blue light blocking coating can be applied to optical lenses &/or most devices have a built-in blue light filter than can be turned on.
  7. Optimize your workspace: make sure that you have appropriate lighting, font size and minimal glare. To reduce neck & back strain have the correct desk & screen height. If using a hand-held device use the knuckles-to-nose rule to ensure you are not holding the device too close. Put your knuckles on your nose & your device should not be held any closer than your elbow.
  8. Think outside the screen: go for a walk instead of watching TV, read an actual printed book, play a board game with your family, & remember that you do not always have to video call!!
  9. Screen free sleep: make the hour before going to sleep screen free & do not check your phone if you wake up during the night.
  10. Mental health check-in: with increased screen time, this usually translates to increased social media use. Be mindful of your mental health & take a break from social media if needed.

While we navigate our new lives in isolation, it is more important than ever to stay connected online with our families, friends, & work. However, we must balance this screen use & try to keep things in moderation by using the simple tips out-lined above.

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