A study in Japan of office workers who spend most of their working hours staring at a computer display showed a surprising result. The office workers demonstrated changes in their tear production similar to people with a disease called “dry eye.”
The upper eyelid secretes a protein that makes up the tear film or mucous layer that keeps our eyes moist. When tested, the participants in the study had a greatly decreased production of the protein similar to patients with the disease. Eye strain is a symptom of dry eye disease. For anyone seeking help from their ophthalmologist for symptoms of eye strain might want to discuss the level of MUC5AC in their tears.
The authors of the study speculate that because our blinking rate slows when we stare at the screen and we have a tendency to open our eyelids wider if our monitor is positioned incorrectly that our tears evaporate more quickly.
Eye strain due to the length of time looking at a computer monitor is also called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), and is more common than most people realize. Between 50% and 90% of people who work at a computer monitor have some symptoms of eye trouble. Eye strain can also come from not getting enough shut eye, among other things.
Parents should note that working adults are not exclusively reporting eye problems. Children and young adults who spend hours in front of their computer, or watching portable video games or hand-held tablets for long periods of time can also experience similar problems.
In the case of kids who complain of eye problems, pay closer attention to how much time they spend in front of a computer screen whether for school or entertainment. Telling them to “go outside and play” is excellent advice. It’s also advice adults could use as well. We know that sitting for long periods of time every day is detrimental to our cardiovascular health. So when you get up every hour to get a glass of water or walk up and down some stairs to get the circulation going, pay attention to your eyes, try blinking more frequently.
Back at your desk, evaluate where your computer screen is. The exposed surface of your eye can be decreased if the terminal is placed at a lower height and having the screen tilted up. Make sure your desk is not in direct line with a fan or the air conditioning or heating vent. And adding a humidifier will also be beneficial.
If you still have problems after taking these steps, see your ophthalmologist. You may need to supplement your normal tears with eye drops. And, as we age, our eyes do require more vigilant care in order to retain optimal vision.