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Healthwatch 16: Staring at screens

Experts from Geisinger have advice to help you avoid eye problems from extra screen time during the pandemic.

One unintended consequence of the coronavirus pandemic is that many people spent way more time staring at screens then they used to, and that goes for kids, too.

Eye care experts say all that screen staring can take a toll on our eye health.

The COVID-19 pandemic sent many of us home to work and to socialize, sometimes using Zoom or Skype or another online tool. And that's not even counting the time we stare at our phones and other mobile devices.

It's enough to cause serious headaches. Eye care officials are definitely hearing more complaints about eye symptoms.

"When you stare at a screen for prolonged periods of time, your eyes to dry out since you're not blinking as much, because you're focused on the screen. That can mean redness, irritation, eye strain, and blurred vision," explained Dr. Jui Pandya, a Geisinger neuro-opthalmologist.

Dr. Pandya says, luckily, those symptoms can typically be alleviated with over-the-counter lubricant eye drops and won't cause permanent damage.

Her colleague Dr. Tarika Thareja goes a step further.

"Our eye muscles can also get fatigued when we're staring at a screen. Take a break and be conscious of those breaks," Dr. Thareja advised. "There's a really good tip called the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, gaze 20 feet away, and do that for 20 seconds. Then you can return to your screen. It's basically a mini yoga stretch for your eye muscles."

Other helpful tips include making sure the computer monitor you're using is about an arm's length away, to avoid strain.

Also, watch out for the blue light that's emitted by some electronics, which can mess with your circadian rhythms or the natural rhythms of your sleep patterns.

Try to watch how much blue light your eyes take in. Put your phone in night mode, or better yet, avoid it altogether about two hours before bed.

"Same kind of tips can help in kids as in adults, use drops, take breaks, try night mode, limiting screen time will help their overall health as well," Dr. Pandya added.