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Preventing Eye Strain From Screens While Socially Isolating

Photo Illustration by Scott Barbour
Getty Images
In this photo illustration, the logo of the multi-facetted internet giant Google is reflected in the eye of a woman looking at a computer screen, April 13, 2006, in London, England.

In social isolation, big and little screens have come to rule our lives. From people who work from home, to those who want to get some face time with family and friends after hours, screens can harm eye health and vision.

Milwaukee’s Grange Vision published a guide to preventing eye strain and other tips to keep your eyes safe while optometry offices are closed for routine exams.

“When your eyes are focusing something at a fixed distance, specifically at a near distance, that focusing mechanism can lock up,” said Dr. Mike Waclawski, an optometrist at Grange. “It might take you a couple of blinks to get into focus.”

Looking at illuminated surfaces like computers, tablets, and phones causes eyes to dry out faster than it would from looking at books or other objects. Waclawski says people blink less frequently when looking at screens.

This might cause lasting damage in some situations, but Waclawski offers advice to keep eyes full of tears and therefore more protected.

“Every 20 minutes, you want to take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away. This keeps your focusing mechanism within the eyes moving [so] you’re not just locked on one distance,” he said.

Other symptoms of eye strain may include sore shoulders, neck pain, and tension headaches, which are felt in the front of the forehead. Waclawski says that people can consult optometrists over the phone if these are persisted symptoms, especially if extensive screen work is something new, like graduate school or an office job.

“Doing an eye exam will tell us if this is computer-induced eye strain or something else,” said Waclawski. Until safer-at-home orders are lifted, though, frequent breaks are what the doctor ordered.