Changing habits and the pandemic

Living with the pandemic has meant a change in lifestyle habits for many people, from increased hygiene measures, to working from home becoming the new norm. But have some of these new habits affected the public’s eyesight?

woman working at desktop

As a mainly office-based worker for my entire career – aside from the roving reporter duties that come with a job in journalism when I would leave my desk and meet optometrists face-to-face – on March 23, 2020 I cleaned my desk, packed up some essentials, such as my laptop and a few notepads and pens, and left the office under instructions to work from home for the foreseeable future.

That evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the ‘Stay at home’ message and the UK entered it first lockdown.

I have not ventured into an office environment since.

Never did I imagine that, almost 13 months on, I, like the majority of the UK’s office-based workforce, would be sitting writing this blog from my study, still working from home.

With the pandemic, of course, has come many changes to our lifestyles. Heightened hygiene measures have, perhaps understandably, meant an increase in single use plastics through hand sanitisers and wipes, as well as PPE. While the reusable cup revolution that had gained apace has come to an abrupt halt.

Perhaps one of the largest changes for many will have been the cancellation of commuting in favour of home working. In addition, staying at home has meant that we have become familiar with social gathering and family catch-ups via Zoom. And as we move from one screen to the next, from one digital device to the other, with this comes increased screen time. As I rubbed my eyes engrossed in my screen as lunchtime neared earlier this week, I began to wonder what impact this increased screen time is having on the public’s eyesight?

In January this year, research commissioned by eye research charity Fight for Sight found that more than three in 10 working adults (38%) believed that an increase in screen time during the pandemic has led to a deterioration in their eyesight.

The poll reported that 49% of respondents said their screen time had increased during the pandemic, with one third saying it had increased by more than two hours per day.

It has been suggested that as a result of this increased screen time during the pandemic, conditions such as dry eye have been on the rise.
So, what can optometrists do to support these potential patients with dry eye symptoms?

In the latest edition of OT, our senior reporter, Kimmy Young, spoke to a range of industry representatives about developments in dry eye and the opportunities available to help practices meet this need, with many confirming that practices have referenced an increase in conversations around dry eye during the pandemic.

Scope’s Mandy Davidson highlighted that as dry eye is a multifactorial disease, “many practitioners are realising the limitations of fully investigating dry eye as part of a routine examination and are considering inviting patients back to offer a specialist service, if first line recommendations don’t appear successful.”

Positive Impact’s Nick Atkins said that setting up a dry eye clinic has been on many optical businesses to-do lists for a number of years and commented on how practices need to invest in the latest instrumentation and software for an accurate diagnosis of dry eye, suggesting an advantage for those practices who do so first.

In the next edition of OT (June/July), CG Optical shares insight into the benefits that running a dry eye clinic has offered it patients and the business, having invested in Tearstim and IDRA technology in November 2019. “Offering a dry eye service has been healthy for business and provided a timely additional income stream as part of our business model. It gives us a unique edge that other independents locally do not have and helped increase footfall when routine eye exams dropped during the pandemic,” practice owner, Claire Gough, and assistant manager, Rebecca Gough, told OT. Be sure to read their story in our I could not live without article.

OT  asks

Have you seen an increase in the number of patients presenting with dry eye symptoms in the last year?
  • Yes, a small increase

    12 41%
  • No

    6 20%
  • Yes, a large increase

    11 37%