Health Check

How to balance your screen time during COVID-19

Give your eyes a break to avoid digital eye strain.

Written by Editor Medibank

Due to the restrictions caused by COVID-19, more Australians are studying or working from home.

That means you may find yourself spending more time in front of a computer screen or digital devices. When it’s time to knock off, your leisure time may be spent in front of screens for entertainment because of stay at home orders or the closure of restaurants, pubs and amenities.

Research commissioned by Specsavers just before COVID-19 restrictions came into effect revealed that nine out of ten people surveyed claimed to have experienced at least one symptom of digital eye strain while at work.*

Specsavers Optometrist Greeshma Patel says screen time adds up each day and it may have an impact on your eyes.

“If you're going from remote working or studying to a Zoom hangout with friends or family, to a marathon [streaming] session … your overall time spent in front of a screen may add up to 10 hours or more a day,” says Patel.

“Our eyes aren’t meant to be fixed on a single object that long and it’s likely to have a negative effect on our eye health.”

What is digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain is common, and it occurs when you use computers, smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles for a long time.

Digital eye strain can lead to dry or irritated eyes, blurred vision, difficulty focusing, sensitivity to light, eye fatigue, headaches and difficulty reading small print.

Top tips to prevent and reduce digital eye strain

  1. Don’t forget to blink! People usually blink about 15 times a minute. Make a conscious effort to blink as often as possible. This keeps the surface of your eyes from drying out. You might even want to put a sticky note on your computer screen reminding you to blink often.

  2. Drink lots of water. Your eyes dry out when you’re dehydrated so it’s important to keep up your fluid intake when sitting in front of a screen all day.

  3. Follow the ‘20-20-20’ rule. Take regular breaks to give your eyes a rest. Every 20 minutes shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 meters away, for at least 20 seconds. The easiest way to do this is to look out your window at something outside.

  4. Adjust brightness and contrast. If your screen glows brighter than your surroundings, your eyes have to work harder to see. Adjust your screen brightness to match the level of light around you. Also, try increasing the contrast on your screen to reduce eye strain.

  5. Reduce the glare. The screens on today’s digital devices often have a lot of glare. Try using a matte screen filter to cut glare or simply cover your windows to avoid outside light shining on your screen.

  6. Adjust your position at the computer. When using a computer, you should be sitting about 60cm (about at arm's length) from the screen. Also, position the screen so your eyes gaze slightly downward, not straight ahead or up.

Children and digital devices

Patel cautions that increased time on digital devices and work with screens can impact children more than adults. With many school children currently undertaking remote and flexible learning from home, they are more reliant on laptops and tablets for online lessons and entertainment, and due to social distancing restrictions have generally been spending more time indoors.

 “I understand how strong the pull of digital screens is for children and I also know that the way children learn and play is drastically changing as technology becomes increasingly incorporated into everyday life, especially during COVID-19,” says Patel.

“Vision and eye health can have a major impact on a child’s development – not just on their education but on sports and social interactions as well.

“Staring at screens and being indoors for extended periods of time can increase the risk of a child becoming short-sighted (myopic), meaning their eyes focus well on close objects, while more distant objects appear blurred. “

If children are getting more screen time it’s important to ensure they are getting up and moving about throughout the day. Make sure they are spending time playing outside or engaging in activities where their eyes are not fixed on objects close to them.

If you think you might have digital eye strain, make a note of what you were doing before you began to experience the symptoms and make a few changes. Remember, the best way to prevent digital eye strain is to rest your eyes.

If you need to visit an optometrist, they will examine your eyes and might test your vision. They might also ask questions about what could be causing your eye strain and help you come up with a plan to prevent digital eye strain in the future.

 

*YouGov Galaxy, Digital Eye Strain Study prepared for Specsavers, January 2020.  The study was conducted online among a representative sample of 1,118 Australians aged 18 years and older who work in an office or other environment involving considerable screen time.

 

Written by Editor Medibank

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