Once or twice a week, I come home after a long day of staring at a computer screen, flop down on the couch, and declare once and for all that I am going blind. After 12 hours of Googling and typing, my pitiful eyeballs feel sore, thirsty, and ready for a long reprieve.
Except they never get it. Because within 10 minutes of coming home, I’m back on my phone, scrolling through Instagram and YouTube. I’m a technology addict, and I can feel my eyes paying for it.
But how bad is the computer for our eyes, really? What’s happening to cause our eyeballs to throb so badly at the end of each day? And what can we do to stop it?
Do you stare at a computer screen all day? Keep scrolling for six eye doctor-approved tips!
First, a few (slightly unnerving) words on what computers, phones, and tablets are actually doing to our eyes.
“Reliance on digital devices has created a society where we are constantly staring up close,” says Dr. Scott Schachter, O.D., of Advanced Eyecare in Pismo Beach, California. (No kidding.) Luckily, no study has confirmed a major "health risk” caused by computer use, adds Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, O.D., of Corporate Vision Consulting in Encinitas, California. That said, it can lead to uncomfortable symptoms.
“Blink rates are significantly reduced when staring at devices," says Schachter, "and individual blinks are also less complete." Here’s why that’s a problem: Every time we blink, a layer of tears forms over the surface of the eye. After a few seconds, that film starts to evaporate. If we blink before it’s totally gone, the surface of the eye stays protected. Five to seven seconds is considered a normal interval between blinks.
But when we stare at our devices, blink rates go from “every five seconds to every 12 seconds,” says Schachter. This seriously dries out our eyes, causing cells on the surface to “dehydrate and die.” This provokes inflammation, worsens the dry-eye condition, and slows tear production. Yikes.
If that weren’t enough, inadequate blinking can also lead to a more serious condition called meibomian gland dysfunction. (We know, sounds bad.) See, our eyes contain glands that secrete an important oil that coats and stabilizes tears. “Every time we blink normally, oil is drawn out of the glands, and all is well,” says Schachter. But if we don’t blink, the oil thickens up, obstructing the gland like dried toothpaste at the opening of a tube. Once that happens, Schachter says the gland “cannot be revived,” leading to “severe dry eye later in life.” Uh, double yikes.
Not to mention excessive exposure to the blue light our devices emit can cause additional vision problems over time. Long story short: Though our computers aren’t actually turning us blind, they’re making our eyeballs parched and exhausted. Poor, poor eyeballs.
Now that you’re adequately unsettled, here are a few expert-approved tricks that can help with all of this. (And don’t worry, quitting your job or deleting your Snapchat are not involved.)
Did all that stuff about killing your oil glands freak you out? Yep, us too. Fortunately, preventing that sort of thing is pretty easy.
“At least six times per day, squeeze your eyes tightly for about 10 seconds,” advises Schachter. This draws out the oil, making it less likely to thicken and clog your glands. Of course, remembering to squeeze your eyes shut every hour and a half is easier said than done. Try getting into the habit of doing it every time you answer a phone call or go to the bathroom. You can even set a recurring alarm on your phone as a way to remember.
“Warm compresses at home for at least seven minutes per day can also can also keep the oil thin,” says Schachter. Unwind at the end of the night with Thermalon’s Dry Eye Moist Heat Compress ($10).
Just as you need to hydrate your body after a workout, your thirsty eyeballs need the same. Schachter recommends keeping a little bottle of artificial tears by your work station. Clear Eyes Natural Tears Lubricant ($5) should do the trick.
Apply one drop four times a day, whether your eyes feel actively dry or not. “This normalizes the quality of the tear film,” Schachter says. Plus, it just feels *so* good.
We Byrdie editors love our ingestibles for shinier hair, glowier skin, and higher energy levels. And according to Schachter, we Internet addicts can benefit from supplements for dry eyes, as well.
“Gamma linoleic acid has been shown to decrease dry-eye symptoms and increase ocular surface smoothness,” says Schachter. That means smooth, wet eyeballs—just the kind we like. To reap the benefits, add HydroEye SoftGels ($39) to your regimen.
There’s also ongoing research demonstrating positive effects of omega-3 fatty acids on dry eyes. So feel free to work Nature Made’s Ovega 3 Vegetarian Softgels ($32) into your pill-popping routine, too.
Stressed about the blue light from your computer potentially screwing with your vision? The solution: Accessorize.
If you wear prescription glasses, opt for a pair with a blue light filter. “This coating filters the harmful light, while allowing good light to come through, reducing reflections and fatigue,” says Schachter.
You’ll need to visit your eye doctor to find this type of lens. Schachter recommends one called Crizal Prevencia. (You can do a quick search on the brand’s site to see if an eye doctor in your area carries it.) After all, who doesn’t love an excuse to buy a new pair of specs?
If your eyes are literally killing you by 5 p.m. (okay, not literally), the positioning of your work station might be at fault. According to Schachter, your computer monitor should sit slightly below eye level. This requires the eyes to be less open, less strained; plus, it’s easier for the eyes to converge (or focus) when looking slightly downward.
Try boosting your chair up as high as it can go or investing in a cute pillow for your seat, like CB2’s Icelandic Sheepskin Chair Cushion ($50).
When your lifestyle requires you to stare at a screen all day, the most well-rounded approach you can take is this: Remember Anshel’s “Three Bs.”
Because, in addition to the lack of blinking, Anshel says that your breathing becomes more shallow throughout a long day at the computer, due to stress and fatigue. This reduces oxygenation of the brain, which can make you tired and dizzy at best.
“Squeeze breaks” certainly help, but the very best thing you can do is to take shorter breaks more often.
“I recommend the ‘20/20/20’ rule,” says Anshel. “Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away and blink for 20 seconds.”
Want to kick more bad everyday habits? Don’t miss the real reason you’re addicted to cracking your knuckles.