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How to Prevent Dry Eyes From Computer Use

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Women experiencing dry eyes and taking off glasses while using laptop

With the rising prevalence of digital devices and screens in our lives, the development of digital eye strain has become an increasing cause for concern. Not only does it make our eyes feel fatigued and weak, but it can also lead to the development of dry eye disease. At EyeZone, we are dedicated to modern dry eye treatment solutions and have expert staff well versed in the issues caused by digital eye strain.

Book an appointment at one of our locations to receive an accurate diagnosis and begin a treatment plan specifically tailored to your unique needs.

What is Dry Eye Disease?

Dry eye disease is a common issue that can occur when your tears are either of inadequate quality or quantity. The tears we produce are supposed to keep our eyes moist and comfortable — without the proper quality or quantity of tears, our eyes can start to feel dry, inflamed, and irritated.  Dry eyes can also make our eyes feel like they are stinging or burning. 

You may start to experience the symptoms of dry eyes in certain situations, such as:

  • On an airplane
  • In an air-conditioned room
  • While riding a bike
  • After looking at a computer screen for a few hours

General Symptoms of Dry Eye Disease

Some signs and symptoms of dry eye disease can include:

  • Developing a stinging, burning, or scratchy sensation in one or both of your eyes
  • Developing stringy mucus in or around your eyes
  • Having a sensitivity to light
  • Developing eye redness
  • Feeling like something is in your eyes
  • Having difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • Having difficulty with nighttime driving
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye fatigue

What is Digital Eye Strain?

Digital eye strain can be described as the feeling of over-tired, watery, and irritated eyes after spending an extended period of time looking at digital screens. It is a specific type of eye strain that is directly linked to the viewing of digital screens for long periods of time.

While digital devices can contribute to the ongoing development of digital eye strain, digital devices aren’t solely responsible for causing the symptoms of eye strain — in fact, doing any type of up-close viewing of anything for a long time can lead to eye strain. So along with trying to treat eye strain caused by the viewing of digital screens, you should also be aware of other problematic situations that can cause eye strain in your everyday life.

Digital eye strain has a range of symptoms, including:

  • Dry eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Irritated eyes
  • Headaches
  • Sore neck and shoulders

Can Digital Eye Strain Cause Dry Eyes?

Dry eye disease typically occurs when tear production and drainage are not in balance. If you have dry eyes, it is most likely due to one of two factors:

  • An inadequate volume of tears — Tears are produced by different glands located near the eyelids. Tear production can diminish due to age, various medical conditions,  side effects of certain medicines, and environmental conditions (such as windy and dry climates). These conditions can cause tear production to become inadequate, or they can cause quicker evaporation of your tears; both occurrences can lead to the development of dry eyes.
  • Poor quality of tears — Tears are made up of three layers: oil, water, and mucus. Each layer is important for different functions in your tears and they must be balanced in a specific ratio; if our tears do not contain the right amount of each layer, they will be ineffective and our eyes can start to become dried out due to higher rates of evaporation.

When we use digital devices, we can sometimes forget to give our eyes a rest — our tear production can be greatly affected by not blinking for long periods of time. While using a digital device, our tears may become less effective or be produced in an inadequate volume due to a lack of breaks and blinking, which can lead to developing dry eyes.

Women sitting on couch in dark watching movie on computer and experiencing digital eye strain

How to Prevent Dry Eyes Caused by Digital Eye Strain

To prevent dry eyes caused by digital eye strain you can try to consciously focus on blinking more often, as well as trying to take more breaks. One effective break method is to follow the 20/20/20 rule — for every 20 minutes you use a digital device, take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away. You should also try to take a break for 15 minutes after every 2 hours of using a digital device with a screen.

Another prevention tip is to position your computer screen below your eye level. If your computer screen is positioned above your eye level, you will have to open your eyes wider to view the screen. By positioning your computer screen below your eye level, your eyes will not have to open as wide — this may help slow the evaporation of your tears between eye blinks.

Written by Daniel Rowan

Reno optometrist, Dr. Daniel Rowan, was raised in Western Canada and attended Norwich University in Vermont on a hockey scholarship. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in both biology and sports medicine, he received his Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree from the New York College of Optometry in 2001. He performed rotations in a Queens VA hospital, specializing in glaucoma care, and an outpatient eye clinic in the Bronx. Immediately after graduating, he moved to Nevada and is now considered a top Reno optometrist. He is a member of the American Optometric Association and is board-certified by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry for the treatment and management of ocular diseases.
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