Health & Fitness

How looking at your phone screen affects your eyes and what you can do about it

In Short

Long hours of screen time affects the muscles of convergence in the eyes
Adopting the 20/20/20 rule can reduce screen time
Experts suggest doing blinking exercises to combat dryness

By Daphne Clarance: An increase in screen time has caused an alarming rise in the number of people with visual impairment. There are over 2.2 billion people who have near or distant vision impairment globally, according to a 2021 report by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

While many factors affect eye health, looking at mobile phones and screens has indicated several issues in a person’s eyesight, including headaches, blurry vision and nausea.

According to Dr Amrita Kapoor Chaturvedi, Senior Consultant, Department of Ophthalmology, Amrita Hospital, Faridabad, when a person looks at a screen for over 8 hours a day, the eye structurally changes and it stimulates the growth of the length of the eyeball.

Medical experts have shared that the Covid-19 pandemic has seen a considerable uptick in cases of children developing myopia, a common vision condition in which near objects appear clear but objects farther away look blurry. Dr Chaturvedi shared that it was believed that the power of a child’s eyesight would stabilise after the age of 18. But in recent times, the prescriptions for glasses keep increasing till the age of 20-25.

“Children who already had glasses their power has increased a lot because of online classes in the pandemic,” said Dr Chaturvedi.

She added that when we look near, for a long time, the muscles of convergence, which are the muscles which bring the eyes closer to each other, because we’re focussing on a near object for a long time, tend to contract to focus. This causes headaches, blurry vision, and sometimes, reduces concentration.

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A person can also develop dryness which worsens when looking at the mobile screen for a long time. “The rate of blinking of the eyes becomes lesser when we’re focussing on the screen. Due to this, a person develops tear film abnormalities. This causes soreness of the eyes, gritty feeling and redness,” added Dr Chaturvedi.

The rate of blinking of the eyes becomes lesser when we’re focussing on the screen. Due to this, a person develops tear film abnormalities. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

The rate of blinking of the eyes becomes lesser when we’re focussing on the screen. Due to this, a person develops tear film abnormalities. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

HOW TO KEEP YOUR EYES HEALTHY

Restricting screen time is the sole solution to keep the eyes healthy. But Dr Chaturvedi recommends that if someone has to work in front of the screen for a long time, there are some tips that one can keep in mind to avoid strain on the eyes.

“Restrict social media surfing. Even after work, people tend to spend a lot of time on social media, which increases their screen time that goes over and above 7-8 hours a day,” said Dr Chaturvedi.

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If you have to work on a screen, working on a “bigger screen is always better.”

“Use a desktop rather than a mobile or a laptop. Watching on a small screen means the distance is shorter. The closer the screen, the greater the strain. If it is a bigger screen, you can work at a greater distance. You can also increase the size of the font,” she added.

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Take frequent breaks, said Dr Chaturvedi, and follow the 20-20-20 rule.

“Take a break every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. Put a reminder on your screen or on your phone, something that tells you that you need to move away from your screen after every 20 minutes. Look 6 metres away from the screen for at least half a minute,” she said.

The American Optometric Association recommends the 20/20/20 rule: look away from the screen every 20 minutes, focus on an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. In addition, children should walk away from the screen for at least 10 minutes every hour.

Use some kind of lubricating eye drop, shared Dr Chaturvedi. Looking at the screen causes dryness and therefore, using a doctor-recommended eye drop can help.

Another way to combat dryness is by doing conscious blinking. “Do blinking exercises for 20-30 seconds twice a day. Usually, when you’re working on a screen, you’re just staring at it continuously for hours at a stretch and forget to blink. After an hour or so, whenever you’re taking a break from the screen, just open and close your eyes 10-15 times in a row,” said Dr Chaturvedi.

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