Medical experts offer tips for reducing eye strain

Posted: Feb. 18, 2014 2:39 pm Updated: Mar. 12, 2014 2:14 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Excessive use of tablets, computers and televisions can cause strain on the eyes.

As screens have shrunk from the television in the living room to the smartphones in purses and pockets, individuals spend less time blinking. Local experts say the discomfort comes more from the decrease in blinking than from the devices.

Abram Geisendorfer, an ophthalmologist with Quincy Medical Group, said there is very little evidence to support that blue light emitted from computer screens, smartphones and televisions negatively impact eyes. Eyes can feel just as much discomfort from staring at a book or even at a blank wall.

"You're supposed to blink a number of times per minute and when you don't blink that much, the tears are going to evaporate off the eyes much more quickly," Geisendorfer said.

The prevalence of dry-eye syndrome increases with age, according to a 2011 report from the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The academy estimated 3.2 million women older than 50 and 1.68 million men older than 50 struggle with the syndrome. Geisendorfer said at least 25 percent of his patients have dry eyes.

Eyes need a proper balance of water, mucus and oil in tears to remain properly lubricated. When those tear components are off-balance, a person may experience blurred vision, a sharp stinging sensation or a burning feeling.

Dinita Bockhold-Cooley, an optometrist with Specs in Quincy, has a patient who eases his dry eyes with a timer. Bockhold-Cooley said consciously breaking an ongoing stare can reduce itch and irritation. The patient's timer beeps every 30 minutes, and he must pull his eyes away from his computer screen to silence and reset it.

"It would be the easiest fix if we could convince ourselves to look away every 20 or 30 minutes," Bockhold-Cooley said.

Bockhold-Cooley recommended using artificial tears as a pre-emptive measure for individuals who can break away from the computer. Artificial tears may be purchased over the counter and applied before an eye-straining, a long car ride or an afternoon of working in front of a computer.

Geisendorfer suggested patients with persistent symptoms try gently scrubbing their eyelids to reduce debris on the eyelids. He recommended using diluted baby shampoo and gently massaging the eyelids with soft cloth. Dipping a cotton swab in that solution and rubbing it lightly on the lower eyelid may also help reduce irritation.

"Just like you wash your hair, you have to wash your eyelashes occasionally," Geisendorfer said. "A lot of people find a lot of comfort from that because it keeps the edge of the eyelids healthy and a lot of oil can build up there."