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Dr Bala Ambati
Dr Bala Ambati


An eye on screen time


Eye strain caused by digital screens, called computer vision syndrome by doctors, has dramatically increased chronic eye irritation. This is owing to lack of blinking when we stare at a screen—computer, smartphone or tablet—as well as the overload on the eye muscle that helps us focus up close. It is made worse by poor air quality, diabetes, lack of tear production and eyelid inflammation, all of which are common in India.

In adults, I recommend that patients take breaks every hour or two from reading or working on digital screens. Even a few minutes walking around and looking at distant objects can help your eyes. There is a good 20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, put in an artificial teardrop and close your eyes for 20 seconds, and look far away for at least 20 seconds. There are apps that will remind patients to take this break and put a teardrop in. Regular blinking exercises can also be helpful; these can be found on

Long-acting artificial tears may blur the vision for a few minutes as they are of a thicker consistency than normal eyedrops. If you wake up in the middle of the night or in the morning with eye irritation, artificial tear drops could be helpful if used at bedtime.

Warm compresses help relax the eye muscle and promote blood flow to the eyelids. There are different types of warm compresses—hot towels, baked potato reheated in the microwave after pricking the skin, a small bag of microwaved rice and gel-packs or eye masks. Just be careful not to burn the skin.

In patients over 40, reading and computer screens can tax the eye muscle. Reading glasses, bifocals, and eye exercises, such as looking far away and then at a close object quickly and repetitively, can help. Patients between 40 and 60 may benefit from a surgical procedure like the KAMRA inlay or Raindrop inlay, which can reduce the need for reading glasses or bifocals.

Omega-3 fatty acids are helpful to promote tear production and reduce inflammation. Fish is a good source, along with seaweed, walnuts, almonds, chia seed, flaxseed, avocado and olive oil. Conversely, omega-6 fatty acids, which is high in processed food, red meat, sunflower oil and low-quality vegetable oils, are bad for the eyes as they increase eyelid inflammation. Alcohol and caffeine can also increase eyelid inflammation.

Avoid eye rubbing. Bad air and allergies are best treated with prevention, not rubbing. Air purifiers at home or at work can be very helpful. Moisture chamber goggles, which wrap around the eyes and temples, can help minimise dust exposure into the eyes. Avoid drops that 'take the red out'. These constrict blood vessels, which help cosmetically for brief periods, but then rebound as the eye surface becomes addicted to the drugs in these drops.

Treatment of eyelid inflammation can involve tea tree oil lid scrubs as well as opening the pores of the eyelid glands with Blephex (a painless procedure to carefully remove scurf and exfoliate eyelids), probing or Lipiflow (for dry eye) treatments. Medications such as minocycline, doxycycline, and metronidazole cream can also help the eyelids and tear flow.

The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and the university takes no position on these.

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