Whether we wear glasses, contacts, or have 20/20 vision, we tend to neglect our eyes. They seldom receive the love and care they need. Writers and authors are especially guilty because so much of our work falls under deadline or scrutiny. We spend long hours staring into bright computer screens, trying to get it perfect. Do we recognize when our eyes are tremendously strained, or do we soldier on?
I learned a hard lesson when a diagnosis of severe dry eye halted my active lifestyle. On social media, I was limited to liking, sharing, and re-tweeting, and I had no choice except to pull out of two big writing projects. Now that I’m back, I want to share what I learned about keeping my eyes healthy.
My early symptoms were tearing, itching, and burning, which I ignored. Occasionally, I’d squeeze in eye drops which I later learned contained preservatives that made my eyes drier. Eventually, my simple symptoms were complicated by more serious floaters and flashing. In April, the floaters and flashing, which at the time I could not name, drove me to the doctor.
During the regular eye exam, the doctor suggested that a new prescription might correct the problem, but the exam grew serious when the large E on the chart was all I could see. There was almost no moisture in my eyes. It was one of the severest cases of dry eye the doctor had seen. He recommended Xiidra a prescription eye drop to restore moisture to my eyes.
The drops were expensive, even with insurance, but I’d ignored my vision and brought on a condition that could’ve been prevented. Now, I owed it to my eyes to get serious no matter what the cost. I also needed over-the-counter eye gel and a gooey, Vaseline like eye ointment. Still, I was relieved. I could fix this.
At my six week appointment, my sight wasn’t much improved. The doctor suggested that “punctal plugs” be placed in my eyes. These are tiny plastic inserts that hold in moisture by blocking the drainage of tears and keep the eyes lubricated.
Eye plugs sounded scary, so I reached out to my Facebook network for friends who’d tried them. One person shared that after getting them she cried all the time. She had them removed. Another also said, no.
The doctor’s second suggestion was cataract surgery which we’d have to consider if all else failed. That also sounded scary, but, according to my network, cataract surgery was an outpatient procedure that had removed the annoying film from their eyes and brought them significant improvement after a short recovery period.
I left the doctor promising to consider both options. I talked with more friends, and did my “Google Academy studies”. I became an armchair optometrist in less than a day.
The doctor was noncommittal when I asked if too much time staring at the computer screen was the culprit. He said, If your job requires computer use, then it is what it is. Gratefully, the computer is my passion, not a necessity. That revelation put everything in perspective. I took a step back.
Taking a leave–of-absence from the blog and social media was difficult because most of my day is plugged into writing or other internet activities. I also read extensively on my iPad. Even the television irritated my eyes. Giving it all up was frustrating, but I persevered, and over the weeks, the moisture returned. The first sign was the ability to read the digital numbers on the clock and the television.
Paying attention to these signs can prevent severe dry eye like mine:
- Excessive tearing
- Stinging, burning, and itching that doesn’t go away.
- Floaters (Floaters are black dots that appear real enough to grab.)
- Flashing (Bright lights flashing off on the side of your head.)
Doctor recommended preventative solutions:
- Blink frequently. Dry eyes are a sign you’re blinking less than normal when you look at the screen.
- Get regular eye exams.
- Adjust your computer screen so that the light is easier on your eyes.
- Place your light source at a right angle to your monitor to minimize glare from bright lights surrounding you.
- Take breaks from the screen.
- Periodically focus on more distant objects.
- Walk around or lean back in your chair and rest your eyes for a few minutes.
Use a portable humidifier next to your desk if the air in your home gets dry. I also use lubricating eye drops (without preservatives) as necessary.
Finally, if you use smart devices at night, know that blue light from computer screens and digital devices can lead to digital eyestrain. This light may affect your vision and could age your eyes. Again, decrease the time spent in front of your screens, and take frequent breaks to rest your eyes.
Screen filters are available for smart phones, tablets, and computer screens. They can decrease the amount of blue light given off of our devices. There’s also a nighttime setting on many new devices that allows us to program them for low light (night) view.
Since my vision has improved, I’ve reverted to many of my old ways. How quickly we forget? I read and write longer than I should without breaking, and I don’t lubricate as often as I should. Perhaps closing my eyes and visualizing the last few months unable to drive, or recalling the play I attended and kept asking my companions if they could see, might help (they all could).
Those memories ought to get me up—walking about—and socking the moisture to my overworked peepers.
Disclaimer: This post has referenced eye drops several times. Choose your eye drops carefully.
- People should avoid eye drops designed to remove red from the eye. These are often not meant to treat dry eye.
- If a person has glaucoma or another eye disease, over-the-counter medication should only be taken if a doctor recommends it.
- Different over-the-counter eye drops have different ingredients. Some drops might work well for some people and not as well for others (I searched until I found the ones that worked for me).
There are two types of artificial tear drops: one that contains preservatives and one that does not. Some people find that preservatives irritate their eyes and so they need to use a preservative-free variety.
Visit the link below to read more about blue light and your eyes.