Mon | Nov 30, 2020

Watch your eyes! - Taking care of your sight during the COVID-19 pandemic

Published:Wednesday | October 21, 2020 | 12:06 AMDr Amoy Ramsay/Contributor

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of adults and children have increased screen time on computers, tablets and phones. This prolonged screen time can lead to eye discomfort, fatigue, blurred vision, headaches, and dry eyes. Low lighting, glare, improper workstation set-up and undiagnosed visual problems can make things worse. When we look at a screen for a prolonged period without a break, this can lead to eye irritation and dry eyes, due to reduced blinking, with accommodative problems (difficulty focusing near and far). Children tend to ignore these symptoms, which can lead to excessive eye strain.

Ways to reduce these symptoms:

Take a scheduled 10-minute break for every hour’s work;

Adjust the computer to the child’s body, using an adjustable chair height and footstool to help;

Check the lighting on the computer and avoid direct light on to the screen. Use dinner lighting instead of bright overhead lights;

Treat dry eyes and do eye exercises;

An annual eye examination will help diagnose refractive errors that need correction.

The following populations need additional preventative measures:

DIABETIC PATIENTS

All patients 12 years and older with diabetes mellitus should have their eyes checked at least once a year. Interventions include putting eye drops in the eyes by a trained person, screeners, optometrists and ophthalmologists. An examination of the back of the eye (the retina) will detect diabetic retinopathy early. We encourage all people with diabetes to take along their clinic passports so we can make a note. You can reduce diabetic retinopathy by controlling your glucose levels and keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels at normal levels.

GLAUCOMA

Glaucoma is common in our population. Persons can have normal vision in early and moderate glaucoma because the outer (peripheral) vision is affected first. One may not appreciate this visual loss until it is late, because when we open both eyes, they each help with peripheral vision. The reading vision is usually affected in advanced glaucoma (end-stage). All patients over 40 years should have their eyes screened for glaucoma. Risk factors apart from your heritage include patients with a family history. Short-sighted persons (high myopes) may need screening before age 40.

PRESBYOPIA

Patients around the age of 40 years may notice difficulty with seeing the fine print or have blurred vision while looking at their phone screens and may need to push the reading material some distance away to see. This condition is called presbyopia and is a normal phenomenon that usually requires glasses to improve near vision.

EYE SCREENING FOR OTHER CONDITIONS

Patients with sickle cell disease (HbSS, HbSC) and patients on certain medications such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) should also have their eyes checked every year. We encourage patients, young and old with no medical conditions or other risk factors that may affect the eye to have at least a check on their eyes every two years. A healthy diet includes dark green and purple vegetables, and yellow/orange vegetables and fruits are good for your eyes. Remember to keep your eye appointments during this time, unless advised otherwise by your eye doctor.

ROUTINE EYE EXAMINATION

Routine eye examinations can often detect and reduce the impact of visual impairment due to uncorrected refractive errors (the need for glasses and/or contact lenses), a significant cause of visual impairment. In children, a vision screen can detect treatable conditions, including refractive errors, strabismus (squint), eye cancers (retinoblastoma), congenital cataracts, and glaucoma. Undetected refractive errors can lead to the development of amblyopia, an irreversible visual loss in an otherwise healthy eye. Amblyopia can be treated if detected early. It is, therefore, essential that all preschool children (ages five to six) have an eye examination. Subsequently, children should have an eye examination every two years, if all else is healthy

Dr Amoy Ramsay is a consultant ophthalmologist at the Cornwall Regional Hospital.