As an eye care professional, you may have heard more patients saying, “My eyes feel dry after I look at a screen for too long.” What do you say to these patients?
Why Do Eyes Get Dry During Screen Time?
People who spend a significant amount of time with digital devices like computers, tablets, smartphones, and even TVs have a higher rate of their eyes feeling dry. Often, this is the first symptom of digital eye strain patients will notice. Dryness is common because when we stare at computers, we don’t blink as often or as fully as we should.
According to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, we actually blink two thirds less than normal while in front of screens, leaving our eyes without the necessary lubrication to keep them comfortable and healthy. Incomplete blinks mean that tears are not spread evenly across the eye. Perhaps more concerning is that our eyes may change from the increased screen time.
A Physiological Change
The tear film is made up of 3 layers: the mucous (mucin) layer, the aqueous (water) layer, and the lipid (oil) layer. The eyes need these three mechanisms to coincide and work in harmony to protect against discomfort and corneal surface issues. When any or all of these tear film components cease to work correctly, tears become unstable or evaporate too quickly, resulting in dryness, burning, or irritation.
While blinking is important to maintaining healthy eyes, a Japanese study found that working with digital devices for an extended amount of time actually changed tear composition. The researchers reported that participants had lower amounts of mucus in the tear film. This means that screens can leave an imbalance that lasts long after screens have been turned off.
What Can You Do?
Artificial tear or eye drops can be the go-to relief for people suffering from occasional dry eye, but they are often only temporary and need reapplication several times a day. Some people significantly overuse artificial tears eye drops, causing them to wash away the natural tears. Prolonged use and/or overuse can cause a dependency on the drops to soothe and moisturize the eyes.
Some may suggest reducing the amount of time spent on screens – a futile point for many in this technology-driven world. One way to help patients feel relief and improve the health of the surface of the eye is with nutrition. EyePromise® EZ Tears™ is specifically formulated to relieve dryness and irritation and support a healthy tear film.
While dryness and irritation are issues that patients tend to be most vocal about, it’s important to start the screen time conversation with your patients. Learn how Dr. Louise Sclafani is handling screen time in her practice.
- Kozarsky, Alan. “Dry Eyes: How Screen Time Parches Your Peepers.” WebMD, WebMD LLC., 17 May 2017, webmd.com/eye-health/dry-eye-screen-use#1.
- Heiting, Gary. “Can You Get Dry Eyes From Using A Computer Or Watching TV?” All About Vision, AAV Media, LLC., Feb. 2018, allaboutvision.com/conditions/dry-eyes-faq/dry-eyes-from-computer.htm.
- Nall, Rachel. “Steps for Computer Eye Strain Relief for People with Chronic Dry Eyes.” Edited by Ann Marie Griff, Healthline, Healthline Media, 12 Feb. 2018, healthline.com/health/shut-the-lid-on-chronic-dry-eye/computer-use.