How to protect your eyes during online learning

By Percy Mohn

Elm Staff Writer

As we start off the virtual school year, it is important that we consider our physical health when it comes to online classes and work—especially when it comes to our sight.

While it is not new, eye strain has become a more prevalent issue due to the switch from in-person to online classrooms as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We spend hours looking at a computer screen with few breaks in between, and it can become quite painful if you do not know how to manage it.

Eye strain is not just caused by computer use; you can also develop discomfort from reading for long periods of time or even after driving for a while. Overusing your eyes is the main culprit of eye strain.

While eye strain is not permanent, it can still cause discomfort and there are several changes you can make in your daily work routine to alleviate the pain.

One of the most common causes of eye strain is having dry eyes, which can come from a lack of blinking while focusing on tasks. In addition, your work environment can also contribute to dry eyes.

“Blinking cleans the ocular surface of debris…and flushes fresh tears over the ocular surface,” National Keratoconus Foundation’s Benzalel Schendowich, O.D., said.

“This brings nutrients and other substances to the surface structures keeping them healthy. It helps prevent infection and clears and brightens the image received by our retina.”

When we focus on our screens or other tasks for long periods of time, our eyes are susceptible to locking up in a state commonly known as “accommodative spasm,” which, as explained by the Texas Children’s Hospital, causes our eyes to stay “focused on the close object, causing blurry vision at other distances.”

This intense focus, which reduces our ability to blink, also further results in drier eyes.

A common rule for preventing this while working for long periods of time is the 20-20-20 rule: for every 20 minutes of work, you look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Gary Heiting, OD, and Larry K. Wan, OD, from All About Vision explains that this eye exercise “relaxes the focusing muscle inside the eye to reduce fatigue.”

Another exercise described is to look at something far away for 10 to 15 seconds and then look at something up close for the same amount of time, repeating this process ten or more times.

To further combat eye strain caused by dry eyes, Celia Vimont from The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests that you “keep a bottle of artificial tears handy and place a humidifier next to your desk,” and “adjust your computer screen so your eyes gaze slightly downward.”

However, one of the most important tips for reducing eye discomfort is maintaining a healthy distance from your screens. Keeping our screens too close causes the eye to stretch in order to focus, which results in discomfort after prolonged periods of focusing. In fact, the recommended distance for our screens is two feet away.

“Having a screen closer than this requires our eyes to focus harder in order to keep the image sharp, which can cause strain and potentially worsen myopia [or nearsightedness],” The New York Times’ Kelly Hoover Greenway said.

Unfortunately, in a time with a greater reliance on digital learning, eye strain seems to be an inevitable problem.

However, eye strain discomfort is avoidable—if we try to stave off its effects with simple lifestyle changes.

It is important that we do all we can to protect our eyes from the worsening digital fatigue as much as we can. Learning online is hard enough without our eyes suffering.

So be kind to your eyes and take breaks; your sight will thank you later.

Photos by Rebecca Kanaskie

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