By Monica Kapila
How seriously do you take your eye health? Most people reading this probably have some kind of physical workout routine, be it classes at a gym, walking, swimming, or something similar, exercises to keep muscles strong. Many of us are also aware of the importance of incorporating rest and recovery breaks from tough exercises in between sessions.
But what about our eyes? We have 6 muscles in each eye too, do we look after our eyes to the same degree, and critically how do we give our eyes those important rest and recovery breaks? Read on for some practical, simple, effective ways to look after your eyes so the future looks as bright as possible for as long as possible.
No one will disagree with the massively increased use of screen time that we’ve all “normalized” since covid lockdowns happened. But even though most restrictions have now lifted, meetings, calls and work related communications are routinely conducted via Zoom, Google meets and similar platforms that enable people in different locations to participate – all via a screen of some sort. While this development has been hugely helpful in some regard, it does mean our screen time has multiplied greatly making our eyes work much harder than before.
Even schools both primary and secondary have switched to a lot of online learning and tablets and computers are very much as normal as exercise books and pencils for children from a very young age in some cases.
Consequently, we don’t get those natural “breaks” away from looking at a screen as we would if we were in an office or learning in a face-to-face environment. Then what do most of us do to relax or “switch off” from work? We often move to a smaller screen, check our personal messages and scroll our social media, and so on.
We may do a quick zoom with our loved ones if they’re in another country or watch something on our beloved Netflix, sometimes on a bigger screen, sometimes on a phone before we go back to work to yet another screen. Not forgetting whats app communications with all its groups and extended group “chats” that people love to share and forward things on, you guessed it that require us looking at our phones or screens for even longer.
Now it would be almost rude not to reply with the right emoji to express an appropriate reaction even if you wanted to use fewer words. But you still have to do a bit of scrolling to find that emoji, or giff, right?
As a result of all this increased screen time without proper breaks, our eyes have suffered. It’s official. Numerous articles from reputed sources are reporting more cases of myopia (short sight) amongst children since the pandemic and everyone knows someone in the UAE at least who suffers from very dry eyes and whose sight has got worse since the pandemic. The college of optometrists in the UK is officially calling for children to play outside for at least 2 hours every day to give their eyes a break screens. Easier said than done especially in our UAE heat right now!
But there is plenty you can do to maintain good eye health. Just make these habits as normal as opening your phone! There is an accepted 20:20:20 rule in optical circles which suggests after every 20 minutes of screen time, look at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. I can't do this as 20 minutes is too short but:
I set an alarm on my phone for an hour when I sit at a screen, then I get up from my screen, walk to a window and stare out for at least 30 seconds. Try it. It really helps relax your eyes.
If you have any say about where your desk is placed at home or in your office, opt to sit with a window in front of you, so even when you’re at your screen you can look out at something a bit further away in a very natural way without getting up from time to time.
Stay hydrated with water as often as possible, this indirectly helps keep dry eyes healthy, especially in our harsh sun and strong AC environments.
Keep a general bottle of over-the-counter eye drops or gel on your desk and use it from time to time when your eyes feel a bit dry. Get the right ones for your eyes, HyLo Forte seems to be a good generic one, but check with your pharmacist or doctor.
If you’ve had extended periods of screen time over a long day, get a herbal seed bag (lavender is good) the ones you can microwave for a minute or so and place gently over your eyes to help them relax and open up the tiny glands in the upper and lower eye lids that often get blocked from dryness and then cause eye strain. EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION with temperature of bag when doing this though.
Blink on a regular basis, pop a post it note on your desk or window to remind you! It’s too easy to forget. According to an article in the Financial Times, your blink rate drops from a healthy 18 times face to face to only 3 times a minute when you’re looking at a screen!
Use your VOICE a lot more as part of your tech communications. We’re all super familiar with voice notes now but try and keep them to a minute if you can, much more likely they’ll be listened to sooner rather than later!
Go for regular eye checkups to a recommended optician and once a year to an eye doctor – ophthalmologist, they perform much more thorough checks on your eyes vs an optician.
Consider seeing an orthoptist if your regular glasses are not working well enough for you. An orthoptist will measure the quality of your vision vs only the quantity, they measure how well your eyes are working in sync with each other, that’s known as your binocular vision. This is especially important if you’re experiencing any kind of double vision or headaches that don’t improve with new glasses.
I’m not going to start on the topic of too much eye make-up, but opt for the natural, hypo allergenic stuff if you can and throw away any old mascaras or pencils, it’s not worth using up the last bits that are full of irritants and possibly bugs too. If you’ve got teenage kids experimenting with eye make-up then invest in some good products for them, hopefully these habits will stick.
Our eyes may be the mirrors to our souls but they’re also our windows to everything else! So look after them well.
Give your eyes a break now, listen to a podcast on eye health or a related topic here, the author’s podcast channel.