Optometrists are warning excessive screen time during the Covid-19 lockdown has caused a rise in the number of Kiwis complaining of strained eyes.
One Auckland optometrist told the Herald that before lockdown about 20 per cent of people coming to get their eyes tested were mentioning symptoms of digital eye strain. Now it's about 60 per cent.
Karthigan Param - who has been a practising optometrist for eight years - said his biggest concern was the impact eye problems could have on a person's quality of life - especially on a child's development.
Digital eye strain can cause dry or irritated eyes, lead to blurred vision, difficulty focusing, sensitivity to light, eye fatigue, headaches and difficulty reading small print.
Briar Barratt-Boyes, 24, described to the Herald getting "burning eyes" during lockdown and feeling so nauseous she had to take half a sick day.
In the office she said she would spend about six hours of the day in front of a computer screen but that came with plenty of breaks.
"During lockdown, I was doing at least nine hours a day screen time and when it got really busy in the middle of lockdown I was spending about 10-11 hours straight glued to the computer.
"I think one of the biggest issues was at the office I would often have a lot of face-to-face meetings which broke my screen time up but when I was working from home all my meetings were over Zoom so I was literally glued to the computer the whole time."
Param said this was common for a lot of people he had seen after lockdown.
"If you're going from remote working or studying to a Zoom hangout with friends or family, to a marathon session of Netflix, your overall time spent in front of a screen may add up to 10 hours or more a day.
"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."
He cautioned that increased time on digital devices and near work with screens was even more concerning for children than adults.
"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 could increase the risk of a child becoming short-sighted (myopic), meaning their eyes focus well on close objects, while more distant objects appear blurred, he said.
His comments come after research - commissioned by Specsavers just before Covid-19 restrictions came into effect - revealed most New Zealand office workers were already experiencing symptoms of digital eye strain.
Of the 1167 people surveyed, it showed eight out of 10 claimed to have experienced at least one symptom of digital eye strain while at work. A total of 69 per cent complained of neck, shoulder and back soreness and 61 per cent had headaches. About 48 per cent reported having difficulty concentrating while at work, while 42 per cent said they often had sore, tired, burning or itchy eyes.
Six tips to reduce digital eye strain:
• 1. Blink! People normally 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 also 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 metres 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.