Stephanie Marioneaux, MD, an ophthalmologist and cornea specialist, addresses the widespread issue of digital eye strain in honor of World Sight Day.
Stephanie Marioneaux, MD, an ophthalmologist and cornea specialist, addresses the widespread issue of digital eye strain in honor of World Sight Day
Editor's note - This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Hello, I'm Dr. Stephanie Marioneaux. I'm an ophthalmologist and cornea specialist, and I want to salute all of you on World Sight Day. I particularly want to congratulate Prevent Blindness for being at the forefront of recognizing such an important aspect of your health, your vision. We hope that all of you will make sure that you are getting thorough and complete dilated eye exams by your eye doctor, the ophthalmologist, and the optometrist to make sure that you can continue to keep this true gift of vision.
I was asked to talk to you today about some of the concerns that we have living in this digital world. As you know, many people spend hours at a time staring at a screen, whether it's for business or pleasure. And the concern is that the age groups that are being involved are very vast, they say that the average 2-year-old has an iPad or some equivalent device. It appears that no age group is spared.
What are some of the complaints that people will talk about in terms of their eyes? Well, there ,is a whole long list of them. But many people think that it is because; Number 1, the computer may be emitting some sort of substance or light. Or, that their eyes are getting tired because of all of the use during the day. And the answer to both of those presumptions is no and no. We have not identified anything that is being released from the computer. And your eyes never get tired. Your eyes were meant to be used. And so what you are experiencing is actually a dry eye. And that is because when you are focused in front of that screen, you stop blinking. You are supposed to blink every 4 seconds, the brain is telling you to blink, but you are saying no, I'm concentrating I'm reading. You should be blinking ... 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 blink 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 blink, but nobody is doing that. Consequently, your tears are evaporating and the surface of the eye becomes dry. And when that happens, you have a whole long list of symptoms that may or may not happen at the same time.
You may find that your vision gets to be a little smeary, you don't have a loss of vision, you don't have a darkening of vision. The vision just doesn't have the definition. It isn't crisp and sharp. You may find that if you blink several times, you may find okay, my vision is improving. If that is the case, that should tip you off that you are probably having a dry eye and you need to be evaluated. You may also have the symptom or the feeling that something's in the eye, like a foreign body–a piece of sand. You may also feel as though you get this stabbing pain out of nowhere. It's kind of an on-off pain. And what that is, is that the tears have evaporated, and now the nerves on the surface of the eye are exposed to the environment. And your eye is telling you to blink. So that stabbing off-on pain is trying to get that involuntary blink response that happens every 4 seconds to try and take over and suppress your voluntary suppression of your blinking.
So blinking is really, really important. The other thing is that you may get confused and you may say "my eyes water all the time, how in the world can they be dry?" Well, those are emergency tears that are coming to re-moisten this very dry eye. Unfortunately, what most people will do is they sort of take their trusty tissue, which is as absorbent as a Pamper, And they blot, blot, blot, blot, and they suck every single bit of moisture out of the eye which then stimulates more tears. And so you have this constant tearing eye. And you, again, never realized that these are the emergency tears that you are summoning every time you blot your eye dry. So when your eyes feel watery, try and blink more so that you can pump them out but so that you can also enjoy the benefit of the extra moisture.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you must get evaluated. We have many options. They range from the over the counter drops, and we also, as ophthalmologists, can prescribe - I think there are now about six prescription medications for dry eyes that can be very beneficial depending on the type of dry eye that you have. And all of that will be determined by a complete and thorough eye exam by your eye doctor.
Don't worry, your eyes are not wearing out, they're not getting tired ... they are simply getting dry. This is a worldwide problem, as I said. It spans all of the age groups, and we're trying to heighten the awareness of how important it is for you to blink, to use lubricants, and even more importantly, to be examined by an ophthalmologist or an optometrist in terms of treating and diagnosing the symptoms and conditions that could be related to a dry eye.
There are many resources available. We want you to check out the Prevent Blindness website for more information about dry eyes, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, as well as the National Eye Institutes also will have some very important information and resources about dry eyes, how to detect it, how it's treated, and, more importantly, how to avoid it. So I thank you very much. And it has been a pleasure to support the efforts towards greater awareness in World Sight Day. I'm Dr. Stephanie Marioneaux and I am an ophthalmologist. Thank you.