Dry eyes are becoming more prevalent as we spend more time in front of digital screens. For some, there’s an easy fix, writes Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup.
IT is said that for every problem, there is a solution. In terms of our body issues, we’ve become accustomed to slapping on moisturiser for dry skin, deodorant for body odour and conditioners for more manageable hair.
These products give comfort and provide solutions to problems we might not have encountered, if it weren’t for our modern lifestyle.
Lately, one such problem is digital eye strain. It is a physical discomfort characterised by dryness, irritation and blurred vision after staring at digital devices for more than two hours at close or mid-range.
The strain may not be due to the screen display alone but also the blue light emitted by these devices.
Prolonged exposure to blue light can cause cataract, macular degeneration and other optical complications.
This situation did not occur a century ago. Even a decade ago, it wasn’t so extensive.
When the body is not able to cope with the lifestyle change, there will be consequences. Over time, digital eye strain can lead to dry eyes. This isn’t difficult to imagine – some people spend more time looking at their screens than they do sleeping.
DON’T FORGET TO BLINK
There’s no getting away from using computers, smartphones or tablets these days. But we tend to become so engrossed at what we’re looking at that we forget to blink, and blinking is what keeps the eye lubricated.
“A thin layer of tear is supposed to spread at the surface of the eye every time a person blinks,” says consultant ophthalmologist Dr Siva Kumar Sundralingam from Columbia Asia Hospital Klang.
“When a person has dry eye condition, the tear glands don’t produce enough lubrication to moisten and protect the eyes, which gives individuals feelings of discomfort and irritation. When not prevented, it could have hazardous long-term effects and direct impact to the individual’s eye health.”
Poor quality of tears may also lead to dry eyes. Tears are made up of three layers; oil, water and mucus. Oil functions to prevent evaporation of the water layer while mucus helps spread tears evenly. Deficiencies in any of these components can be damaging.
Blinking – and tears – is also responsible for removing foreign matter in the eye which reduces the risk of an eye infection.
Meanwhile, some medications can cause dry eyes, while age and diseases like rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to the condition.
DROP IN THE EYES
An easy way to reduce the symptom of dry eyes caused by digital eye strain is by taking a 20 second break after 20 minutes in front of the screen, and look at something at a distance and blinking a few times.
Meanwhile, mild cases of dry eyes can be solved by over-the-counter artificial tears. Much in the same way that we use moisturisers for dry skin, eye drops help the body maintain equilibrium in terms of tear production, considering that we don’t blink enough.
“We may not be solving the problem (of dry eyes),” says Joshi Venugopal, president and managing director for Malaysia and Brunei of Novartis, the company that makes Systane eye drops.
“But we’re symptomatically providing comfort. And it looks like eye drops will soon move in the direction of moisturisers or conditioners.”
Systane has a range of products that can help in combating dry eyes.
For example, the Systane Hydration is formulated to be compatible with contact lens wearers, while Systane Balance helps to prevent tear evaporation. There’s also Systane Gel Drops for more severe dry eye conditions.
He assures that the products are safe for use on children, adding that kids are equally likely to be impacted by dry eyes given their use of digital devices. Cases that cannot be resolved by over-the-counter solutions should be referred to a medical professional. An optometrist is also qualified to diagnose the condition.