The COVID-19 pandemic has given us a new way of living. As people stay in their houses and apart from others, they are increasingly using the virtual world as a way to connect.
But what impact does this have on eye health? Connecting through a screen is a different visual experience than seeing things in person. When you spend excessive periods of time watching a screen, you can actually end up damaging your eyes.
Let’s get into the facts. Here’s the information you need so you can keep an eye on your eye health:
Wait—Screens Really Do That?
You might’ve thought this was an overblown myth aimed to make kids connect with the real world. But here’s the unfortunate truth: too much screen time can indeed lead to dry eyes, blurry vision, and headaches. Optometrists call this Computer Vision Syndrome or Digital Eye Strain.
Some people recommend a 20-20-20 rule for screen time. According to this rule, every 20 minutes, you should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This is meant as a way to rest your eyes from the close-up focus that screens require.
Others urge that you limit screen time due to the blue light that screens produce. According to an organization called Prevent Blindness, blue light does have benefits for alertness and proper eye development, but over-exposure can make it hard to sleep and even prematurely age your eyes. Pandemic or not, we should always be wary of long periods staring at a screen.
Eye Health During Quarantine
Screen time during quarantine has increased dramatically. As we all watch the news and learn about the world of big cats together, we’re spending more and more of our time looking at a screen.
For some who have transitioned to remote work, video meetings have taken over the workday. And almost anyone working with kids right now will be familiar with the amount of screen time that remote learning requires.
During the pandemic, video games have become a way to feel better about staying in the house. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has partnered with the games industry to promote stay-at-home messaging. And Verizon has seen their overall network traffic for video games increase by 102%.
Now more than ever, we should be paying attention to the wellbeing of our eyes.
What We Can Do About It
- Devise a Plan
One way to stay on top of your eye health during the quarantine is to create a daily screen time plan. Estimate how much time you spend on a screen every day, and if it’s excessive, try to get to a lower goal.
Get creative with how you’ll handle things once you reach your ‘limit.’ Will you have a book at the ready to stave off TV cravings? Or switch to a screen option that reduces eye strain?
What’s important is that you find a system that works for your needs.
You can turn technology from an adversary to an ally by incorporating it into your plan. Some social media apps have a feature where you can see how much time you spend browsing. Your phone might even have an option to warn you when you’ve gone past an allotted period of screen time per day.
And making a screen time plan doesn’t have to just be a matter of cutting down on the time you spend on your devices. It can also incorporate tools that help you lower the risks of extensive screen exposure.
For example, you can try computer glasses to reduce eye strain or blue-light filtering glasses to help with sleep problems. Your computer might have a ‘nighttime’ setting to reduce the blue light emanating from your screen in the later hours. If you don’t have this built in, you can do a quick web search for a selection of browser extensions that will do this for you.
- Don’t Forget About Mental Health
While screens can take a toll on our eye health during the COVID-19 era, there are times when screens are hard to avoid. If you have kids at home and are thinking of protecting them from the harsh lights of their phones and computers, consider this: if they’re separated from their friends and classmates right now, these screens may be their only access to a social life.
Even Dr. Ninel Gregory, clinical spokeswoman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, told Today that her kids “are up until midnight playing video games with their friends since it’s one of the few ways to socialize these days.”
That’s not to say that eye health should just take the hit. But make sure to take a balanced approach to this. Be understanding of kids’ mental health as well as their physical health.
The same goes for you too! If you need some screen time to videochat your friends or message them about your day, make a screen time plan that allows for this important aspect of your social life.
- Use a Different Sense
One socializing option that doesn’t require so much face-to-screen interaction is the classic phone call. Next time you have something to say to a friend, try asking if you can call them instead. For some activities like these, you might be able to switch from eyes to ears.
Consider listening to your content rather than watching it. Beyond your favorite music albums, there’s a whole world of audio media out there. Think podcasts, radio shows, audio books, and meditation tracks.
You can even make your own audio files from dialogue-heavy videos like interviews. For example, some alternatives to the VLC media player for Mac will let you extract audio from a video and save it as an MP3. Then you can listen while cooking or taking a walk, without feeling like you need to look at your screen.
As we’re stuck in the middle of a pandemic, with so many health risks to be consider, eye health may seem like the last thing we should be worried about. But the increase in screen time means that now could be precisely the right time to make changes that reduce the risk of eye strain. Make a screen time plan that fits your schedule, and don’t forget to think about mental health too.
Check out our other posts to learn about other lifestyle changes you can make to improve your health. Now turn on your blue-light filter, find something 20 feet away to look at, and protect your eyes!