It goes without saying that the past 12 months have been like no other. Many of us have spent more time indoors than ever before, losing out on social and business activities outside the perimeters of our own homes.
A lot of this indoor time has revolved around screens, whether that’s our TVs, phones, tablets, or computers. A February 2021 survey by Radio Times revealed watching TV and movies is the UK’s favourite lockdown pastime, with 37 per cent of respondents participating in this hobby the most.
During the early stages of the pandemic, social media was flooded with users sharing their iPhone screen time reports, horrified at the increased time they were spending on their devices. But it’s not just our leisure activities that are increasing our screen time; working from home is having an impact. 56 per cent of home workers have found it difficult to switch off after work during the pandemic.
It seems we can’t escape our screens during lockdown. Plus, although the roadmap for leaving lockdown has been set, we’re still a few months away from “normality”. This increase in screen time has impacted our health in many ways, both mentally and physically, but arguably none more so than our eyes.
In this article, we explore the impact of this additional screen time on our eyes and how we can look after our visual health.
We’re not switching off
We wake up and immediately check our phones. We get up and get ready, before spending a full day working in front of a computer screen at home. Once we’ve eventually logged off, we turn the TV on and mindlessly scroll on our phones or tablets. Sound familiar? This is the lockdown routine for many of us. It means we’re getting almost no respite from bright screens and blue light.
In addition to home workers struggling to switch off after work, many are working longer hours, which equals more time in front of their computer screen. On average, workers in the UK are putting in an additional two hours a day. Not only does this have an impact on our eyes, but many of us are then turning to our TVs and personal devices as a respite from work. But it’s certainly not a respite for our eyes.
60 per cent of those surveyed by Radio Times said they’d watched more TV series and movies over the past year, with people spending an average of 31 hours a week watching TV. Meanwhile, only 13 per cent of people found reading more enjoyable, while 10 per cent preferred exercise.
The impact on our eye health
We’re all familiar with the old wives’ tale our parents used to tell us about watching too much TV: that our eyes would turn square. While that isn’t quite accurate, all this additional screen time does have an impact on our eyes.
A survey from YouGov and Fight for Sight revealed that not only is our screen time increasing, but we’re more reluctant to attend eye appointments due to the pandemic. 21% of those surveyed said they were less likely to book and attend an eye test because of concerns around catching or spreading COVID-19. A third felt their eyesight had gotten worse during lockdown, while some reported migraines, worsened night vision, and difficulty reading.
Further issues caused by too much screen time can include:
- eye fatigue, whereby your visual ability weakens because your eyes are constantly refocusing on refreshed digital screens, making our eyes work harder;
- headaches, which are often the result of eye fatigue, that can lead to migraines further down the line;
- dry eyes, because we blink less frequently when looking at our screens, leading to a lack of moisture and causing ulcers, inflammation, and loss of vision;
- a number of conditions including near-sightedness, loss of focus flexibility, and even retinal damage, because the blue light from digital devices damages light-sensitive cells in our retinas.
How can we protect our eye health?
Now that we know the effects lockdown is having on our visual health, how can we prevent these issues from developing into serious eye conditions or even loss of sight?
Cut down on screen time
We know, it sounds obvious, but this is one of the most impactful changes you can make to protect your eye health. As the UK begins to emerge from lockdown, we should be spending less time on our devices. But, in the meantime, try and use digital devices less or cut down the time you spend watching TV. If you relax by engaging with your favourite films or TV shows, why not try to spend some of that time reading instead? If your favourite media began life as a book, indulging in the original story is the perfect alternative.
Address your workload
If you’re struggling to switch off from work – particularly if you’re one of the 44 per cent of people who has found their workload increasing since the first lockdown – it’s worth having a chat with your boss to see if you can make your workload more manageable. Setting boundaries around your work and personal life is not only important to your eye health but your mental health too.
Get your eyes tested
We know that looking at screens more has an impact on our eyes, but with a third of people noticing a change in their eyesight during lockdown, we may be on the verge of an eye health crisis. The Association of Optometrists has published guidance on attending eye appointments during lockdown to ensure your own safety. But if you’re not comfortable doing so during lockdown, we recommend booking an appointment when restrictions ease. If you’re concerned about the cost of eye tests or glasses, a health cash plan can help you manage and reduce these necessary expenses.
Use the 20-20-20 rule
One of the easiest ways to give our eyes a break, particularly during a workday, is to practise the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a break and look at a non-digital object around 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Not only does this give your eyes a short break, but it also helps them to refocus.
Multiple UK lockdowns have turned our lives upside-down and have changed our habits. While some of those changes have been positive, more time spent indoors has resulted in increased screen time. With a third of people reporting their eyesight has worsened in the past year, it’s clear something needs to be done to protect our vision.