NASHVILLE — The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a lot of change to the daily routines of Tennesseans and all Americans, and ophthalmologists say they are seeing an uptick in patients with eye strain symptoms. With students utilizing computers for much of the day for virtual school--some continuing to use them even as they’ve transitioned back into the classroom--and home offices here to stay for many, eye strain, headaches, and dry eye problems have been on the rise.

“The good news is that looking at screens for long periods of time will not cause permanent damage to your eyesight, contrary to popular belief,” said Dr. Becky Taylor, President of the Tennessee Academy of Ophthalmology (TNAO). “However, the symptoms of eye strain can be very uncomfortable and affect your work performance. When we stare at screens for long periods of time, we blink less often, leading to dry eyes and irritation. When we focus on the same distance for a long period of time, vision can blur temporarily, tiring the muscles around the eye and causing headaches. And constantly focusing on things closer to our eyes causes eye strain.”

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and TNAO recommend the 20-20-20 rule and other tips to address eye strain issues:

•Take a break. Set a reminder on your phone and look 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. This can be just pausing to look out the window, or even just shutting your eyes for 20 seconds.

•Be mindful of your distance to your screen. Sit 18-25 inches away from your computer screen, about arm’s length. Position your screen you look downward slightly, not up.

•Use artificial tears. Eye drops help keep your eyes moist and relieve discomfort.

•Consider a humidifier. A humidifier is a great way to add moisture to the air and minimize dry eye.

•Skip the blue light-blocking glasses. If you have trouble seeing your screen, you can ask your doctor about computer glasses. But the AAO and TNAO do not specifically recommend blue light-blocking glasses, as there is no scientific evidence that blue light from computers causes eye strain or damages the eye. It can affect sleep, so doctors recommend switching to night mode or putting down devices 30-60 minutes before bedtime.

“The best thing we can do for ourselves and our kids to stay healthy and prevent these uncomfortable symptoms is to occasionally take a break,” said Dr. Taylor. “Stepping away, and especially getting outdoors periodically can have a very positive impact on eye and overall health.”