Screen Fatigue

It's pretty safe to say that everyone reading this regularly uses electronics with screens. Most of you probably use computers, smartphones, and televisions on and off throughout the day either for work, pleasure, or both, and for ages now, we've known that staring at monitors all day (or all night) is bad for our eyesight.

Chances are, if you spend more than seven hours per day staring at a monitor, you're probably going to have problems with your eyes down the road. Now, we know what actually causes these problems, and it all comes down to our tears.

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Tears are good. We like tears. They do all sorts of useful things, such as keeping our eyes clean and lubricated. A crucial part of the tear system is our eyelid. As our nasolacrimal duct (more colloquially known as the tear duct) secretes tears at the base of our eyes, those tears build up. When we blink, we help spread the tears around our eyes and help keep them clean (like a windshield wiper on a car).

So, how does this relate to our screen usage? Simple, really.

When we stare at a computer screen (or anything, for that matter), we tend to blink less. Staring causes us to widen our eyes more than usual, which can cause tears to evaporate faster than normal. Coupled with less blinking, this causes the eye to dry out. Thus, people who stare at computers a lot tend to have symptoms mimicking dry eye syndrome.

Happy Tears

In a Japanese study, researchers examined 96 office workers who spent a lot of time looking at a computer. They measured the amount of the MUC5AC protein in the tears of the volunteers as the protein is instrumental in maintaining healthy eyes and good eyesight.

Participants spending an average of seven hours a day behind a computer were found to have about 40 percent less MUC5AC protein in their tears than those spending five hours or fewer at a computer. In fact, the seven-plus hour crowd had tears more similar to people with dry eye syndrome than people with completely healthy eyes.

So, since we aren't going to stop using computers, what can we do to keep our eyes healthier? You can blink more, but that would be hard to keep up. Different types of tear drops can help as well, but some of the best things you can do are:

  • Put a humidifier in the office space, thus increasing the moisture in the air
  • Avoid areas with direct blasts of air, such as under air conditioners/heaters
  • Put the computer monitor below your sightline, so you look down, which causes your eyes to close just a little
  • Take regular eye breaks

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