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Do YOU stare at a screen all day? From eating sushi the 20-20-20 rule, leading doctor reveals how to protect your eyes from damage

Madlen Davies
staring on screen
  • Staring at screens on phones and computers leads to eye problems
  • Leading eyes surgeon says cases of shortsightedness are soaring
  • Here, he shares his tips on how to protect the eyes from screen-damage

From our work computers to smartphones and TVs, many of us spend the majority of our days staring at screens.

But experts are warning this has led to a surge in eye problems including dry eyes, fatigue and a surge in people becoming short-sighted.

David Allamby, a leading laser eye surgeon and founder of Focus Clinics, London, believes the number of people with short-sightedness – where they struggle to see things in the distance – could increase by 50 per cent in the next ten years.

The problem, caused by the trend for constant use of computers and phones, is so widespread that he has dubbed it ‘screen sightedness’.

He says increasing numbers of people are complaining of dry, fatigued eyes, which he says is correlated to the rise in screen-time.

He told MailOnline: ‘When your eyes are dry, they become more sensitive, more fatigued and uncomfortable.

‘After staring at a computer all day at work, many people complain of dry eyes.’

Here, he shares his top five tips for keeping the eyes healthy…

Follow 20-20-20 rule

In order to prevent eyes becoming dry and tired at the end of the day, taking regular ‘screen-breaks’ can help.

There is a rule known as the 20-20-20 rule, which says that for every 20 minutes you work, you should look at something 20 feet in the distance for 20 seconds.

Mr Allamby said screen users should try to focus on something in the distance a minimum of once every half an hour.

He said: ‘The eyes are designed to be changing their range, going from far to mid to near.

‘If you take a break from your computer screen and look in the distance, that gives the muscle inside the eye a rest.

‘It should prevent fatigue and dryness.

‘What I find is patients do it once or twice then they forget, so I tell them to put a sticker on their monitor to remind them.’
Chatting to colleagues stimulates more blinking, stopping the eyes from drying out

Don’t send emails to colleagues
Our eyes become dry after staring at a computer because screens cause us to blink less frequently than they would away from this situation, Mr Allamby said.

He added: ‘Normally you blink every three seconds, but faced with a computer you blink every 12 seconds, so there’s more time for tears to evaporate.

‘Combine that with air conditioning in an office, and that increases evaporation even further.

‘The worst situation is doing data entry for eight hours a day on your own; those patients tend to have the worst problems.’

He said chatting to colleagues rather than emailing them helps, as that triggers more blinking.

Speaking on the phone also induces a reflex reaction which leads people to blink more.

‘Chat to colleagues or phone them rather than email,’ Mr Allamby said, ‘be sociable.’

Eat sushi

Another cause of dryness in recent years is the Western diet, Mr Allamby claims.

The body needs omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, as it can’t produce them itself.

Omega-3 is known as the ‘good’ fatty acid, while omega-6 – found in processed foods – is known as the ‘bad’ one.

Our ancestors used to have an equal ratio of these fatty acids, he said.

Eating foods containing omega-3, such as sushi and cold water fish like salmon and mackerel, can protect the eyes as they will produce more of an oil that help stop tears evaporating, Mr Allamby said

‘Now we’ve got 16 times as much omega 6 than omega 3 because of processed foods and cooking oils.

‘This leads to dry eyes, as we lack omega-3,’ he added.

He explains that the lachrymal glands in the bone on the upper outside parts of the eyes provide watery tears to create a film across the eyes.
Then, meibomian glands in the eyelid produce oil which floats across the surface of the eyes, which acts like a cling film, keeping in the tears and reducing evaporation.

A study found women who ate fish just once a week were much more likely to suffer dry eyes than those who ate fish twice or more a week.

‘Cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna are best,’ Mr Allamby advised.

‘Or flaxseed oil is a good vegetarian alternative. I give my patients flaxseed oil supplements before and after laser eye surgery, to improve the quality of their eyes.

Flaxseed is also a good, vegetarian source of omega-3. Mr Allamby said: ‘I give my patients flaxseed oil supplements before and after laser eye surgery, to improve the quality of their eyes’

Take a 10-minute walk at lunchtime
According to research, the more educated a person is, the more studying they have carried out, the more likely they are to have spent time reading books and staring at computer screens.

So experts have found a link between studying and short-sightedness, a condition in which a person struggles to see things far away.

Mr Allamby said historically it was believed this was because people staring at books or computer screens strained their eyes.

But more recent research has found that it could in fact be the level of light rather than the act of studying that contributes to the development of short-sightedness.

‘Activities like reading, or studying at a computer take place indoors, in lower levels of light than daylight,’ he said.

Research has shown that children who play sports outdoors are less likely to be short-sighted than those who played indoor sports. Therefore, Mr Allamby recommends exercising in daylight

He points to studies that show that children who play sports outdoors are less likely to be short-sighted than those who played indoor sports.

‘Daylight is the best light to prevent shortsightedness,’ he said most experts now conclude.

‘That’s the only thing proven stop it.’

He advises office workers who have to work indoors to try to set at a window desk, but if this isn’t possible, to take a walk outside during their lunch break.

He said: ‘The advice is to get outdoors, to read a book outside rather than screens.

‘Take a lunchbreak, take a walk, try to do outdoor activities at weekends.

‘It doesn’t have to be exposure to bright sunlight, even the weak British sun will do.’

Using eye drops can help the symptoms of dry eyes, especially people who wear contact lenses. Mr Allamby recommends using drops which do not contain preservatives, which irritate eyes

Use eye drops

To minimise dry eyes, which leads to fatigue, Mr Allamby said eye drops can be very effective.

This is especially the case for people who wear contact lenses, he said.

‘If you’re getting symptoms of dryness, use eye drops,’ he advised.

‘I would use ones without preservatives, which can irritate eyes.

‘There are good ones you can get on prescription. Or If people run out, I tell them to get ones called Blink in boots, or another called Celluvisc.

‘I recommend buying the ones in boxes with vials, that you use throughout the day and throw out, so they are fresh.’

HOW TO STOP YOUR SMARTPHONE KEEPING YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT

If you’ve had a terrible night’s sleep, you can probably blame your mobile phone.

A host of studies have shown the blue glow emitted by the electronic devices destroys the body’s natural rhythms, keeping us awake and disturbing our sleep.

However there is a solution, says Mr Allamby.

There are apps known as ‘blue light filters’ which change the colour of the light emitted by devices, he said.

Using electronic devices at night can disturb sleep as the blue light emitted wreaks havoc with the body’s natural rhythms. But a doctor said there are now apps available which stop the phone emitting blue light

Mr Allamby told MailOnline: ‘The blue light from phones and computer screens switches off the “sleep hormone” melatonin.

‘By looking at this bright light it tricks your brain into thinking its daytime and stops making the sleep hormone, keeping you awake.

‘To combat this, use an app on your phone called a blue light filter.

He added: ‘The app knows the time of day where you are, it changes the screen to a more orangey hue in the evening to mimic sunset.

‘It takes out the blue light and so you can still read or check your messages on tablets or phone in the evening, without being exposed to blue light that might keep you awake.

‘If you’re reading on a Kindle, there’s a setting you can change from white or sepia.

‘There’s an app called “f.lux” for a Mac that adjusts the screen colour, and there’s a similar one for Windows.

‘You’ll see your screen go slightly orangey.

‘When you deactivate it, its so incredibly blue you realise how much blue light the thing emits. But then your brain adjusts and it goes normal again.’

PUBLISHED: Published: 09:04 EST, 26 February 2015

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