Think and blink

Amidst our growing tablet and computer habit, Multimedia Clinical Editor Ceri Smith-Jaynes shares tips on keeping your eyes healthy

Man holding an iPhone
It’s easy to forget about the parts of the body that just work. Eyes are often taken for granted until something starts to go wrong and there are millions of people in the UK who have never even thought to have their eyes checked, just as a precaution. 

Who do you go to when you can’t see? An optometrist, obviously. But what if your eyes are just a bit irritated after working on the computer? Perhaps less obviously: an optometrist. You should see your optometrist every two years for a check-up anyway but they are great for advice on those day-to-day eye niggles. 

Computer use hasn’t been shown to cause any permanent eye damage but it can be really hard work. Recently, I was surreptitiously watching my husband using his screen and counted 90 seconds before he blinked. Compare this to someone having a chat and you’ll notice they blink 17-26 times a minute. We blink a lot less when concentrating and the eyeballs’ surface coating of tears starts to evaporate the second the eyelids are open. By the time you’ve sat in front of the computer all day, your eyes can be really dry and stingy.

Looking at a screen all day requires effort from your eye muscles. They have to bring the eyes slightly inwards then bring things in to focus. In the same way that sitting in one position for hours can get uncomfortable, staring at your screen without a break can become tiresome. 

So the advice is this: 20/20/20. Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Add in rules on blinking that fit in with the work you do, eg every time you open the next email, have three full blinks or every time you get to the end of a line on a spreadsheet, have a blink. Book an eye examination. If you use a computer at work you can request your employer to pay for this, but your employer is allowed to specify which practice you go to. If you need special glasses just for screen use, your employer must also pay towards them. If you do need glasses for the computer screen, wear them when you start, rather than putting them on when your eyes start to strain.

These simple rules will improve your productivity and ensure you’re not visually fatigued by home time – so you can make the most of that precious time away from work. 

Read 'Top tips for healthy eyes' for more on looking after your eyes.

Ceri Smith-JaynesCeri Smith-Jaynes is OT’s Multimedia Clinical Editor and is an optometrist in independent practice in Lancashire