While many retailers throughout Australia have been struggling with business after lockdown, optometrists have noticed something rather unexpected. Judging by our appointment books, COVID-19 seems to have caused the number of people getting eye examinations to skyrocket.
Pre-COVID, most people came simply because they were due. Many optometrists are now noting that the majority of people come with specific complaints, and many are seeing an optometrist for the first time. We've noticed that many people feel their eyesight has deteriorated recently. They complain of blurriness, fatigue or pressure around the eye area. Their eyes might also feel irritable, especially as the day progresses.
So what does COVID-19 have to do with this? These patients have one important factor in common: all are now working from home. Meetings are now done by Zoom, lunch breaks now spent over the laptop. Without distractions like coffee breaks and our colleagues to chat with, it has never been easier to spend eleven hours straight looking at a screen. Further, no commuting means we have even more time to binge-watch Netflix when we're not working.
There's no doubt that working from home has created challenges for our eyes. Our world is increasingly screen-based, and even moreso in this new COVID-19 context of working from home. This is felt because our visual system is largely developed for long distances and by doing so much ‘near work’, our eyes struggle to keep up and we perceive that as discomfort. There's even a name for this: Digital Eye Strain or it's also referred to as Computer Vision Syndrome.
Uncorrected prescriptions and muscle imbalances that we didn't know we had can further exacerbate this. Also the fact that when we stare at something, we blink less, thus creating sensations of grittiness or dryness which is a symptom.
Unfortunately, there is no magic cure for Digital Eye Strain. There are things that help: regular breaks away from any screen (the 20-20-20 rule recommends looking at something twenty feet away for twenty seconds, every twenty minutes) and making sure that any muscle imbalance or uncorrected prescription is corrected by your optometrist.
COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in many ways. If you are concerned that your vision has suffered from the "new normal", you can make the working from home experience much more comfortable by simply being aware of the symptoms, causes and seeking help from your optometrist when needed.
You can find an optometrist near you here.