Hope you had a great sleep last night. Hope you have no difficulty in reading this newsletter on your mobile. The human body is so amazing that the two sentences are more closely connected than you would imagine.
That is one of the biggest takeaways for us from this week’s FF Recommends: to fix our eyes, we have to fix our lifestyle.
It’s especially important during the pandemic because lockdowns and the need to follow Covid appropriate behaviour have thrown some of our good habits to a toss. It’s showing up in our eyes. In this issue, two experts tell us how to take care of them.
Fixing a problem begins with identifying it
By Dr Lancelot Mark Pinto
The lack of in-person social interactions, working from home and lack of outdoor recreation of any kind has resulted in most individuals relying on digital devices for both work and play. Even exercise classes are done whilst following instructions on a digital device. The constant staring at these devices have led to significant eyestrain.
As a pulmonologist with an interest in sleep medicine, and from social circles, it appears that sleep disruptions have become fairly common over the past year. The time to go to bed seems to have become later than what it used to be, despite the fact that work from home/online school would mean that the time to rise has remained constant. This has resulted in inadequate sleep, resulting in fatigue and daytime somnolence. A significant part of these sleep disruptions are likely to be caused by exposure to backlit devices. The human body has a circadian rhythm (cycle of night and day), that is influenced by light exposure. Bright light sensed by the eyes is relayed to a gland in the brain called the pineal gland, which regulates the secretion of a sleep-promoting hormone called melatonin. Backlit devices, when used at night, trick the brain into believing that it is day, and this disrupts the circadian rhythm, making it difficult for individuals to fall, and stay asleep. The combination of a lack of both quality and quantity of sleep can lead to daytime sleepiness, and an increase in errors and accidents.
Fixing a problem begins with identifying and quantifying it. Most smartphones have means of monitoring usage, which is useful feedback to help discipline one’s screen time. It is prudent to not have a television in the bedroom and keep all backlit devices out of the bedroom to help transition into sleep. There are techniques to lower eye strain that might be useful for those whose jobs entail working long hours in front of a screen, including adjusting the brightness and reducing exposure to blue light.
Dr Lancelot Mark Pinto is a consulting respirologist at PD Hinduja Hospital who specializes in treatment of chronic pulmonary disease, tuberculosis, sleep apnea, and insomnia.
Fix your habits, and read the small print
By Lakshman Subbaraman
One of the most common eye problems that people face these days is dry eyes. We get it when the tear film on our eyes gets ruptured. We notice the tears only when we cry or when a foreign body (like dust) falls into the eyes. But there is a film of tear on the surface of our eyes all the time, performing important antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory work. Sometimes, this smooth uniform tear film gets ruptured, due to a number of reasons, leading to eye irritation.
It happens when we don’t blink enough. Normally we blink about 15-18 times a minute. But when our eyes are focussed on something, this comes down to 10 times a minute or even less. Longer screen times also contribute to it. Some of us look at digital screens for 12-13 hours. Our eyes are not designed for this kind of exposure.
During the pandemic, masks too have contributed to dry eyes. (It’s called Made—‘mask-associated dry eyes’). Your warm breath escapes through the top of your mask and floats over the surface of your eyes, making them drier.
It can happen because of hormonal changes too. Most women, post their menopause, experience it. But most of us face it because of our lifestyles—not drinking enough water, not sleeping enough, not taking enough breaks from the screen.
Therefore the solution too is straightforward: drink three litres of water every day, take frequent breaks from computers (some find thumb rules such as 20-20-20 useful. That is, take a break after 20 minutes for 20 seconds. However, there is nothing sacrosanct about 20. It can be 15 or 25. Do whatever works for you.) Make sure you get seven-eight hours of sleep.
If you have done all these, and still feel eyestrain, you might need prescription glasses. If you are nearsighted or farsighted and don’t wear glasses, you end up straining ocular muscles. The strain could also show up as headache or neck pain.
If you are 40-plus, there is a good chance that you have presbyopia. As we age, the crystalline lens in our eyes gets less flexible, and we find reading books, newspapers and smartphones—or anything that we hold in our hands—harder.
It's a natural phenomenon. We can postpone it by a few years by having antioxidant rich food like spinach or fish, and if we’ve inherited the right genes, but we will face it as we get older. It's a reason why doctors recommend an eye test every year for those above 40.
If you are above 40, and face difficulty reading from your mobile, then this might be a right time for an eye examination.
Taking care of your eyes is no big deal. We associate a healthy lifestyle with a healthy heart. But a healthy lifestyle is also a must for taking care of our eyes: Eat healthy. Drink three litres of water a day. Limit your screen time. Take frequent breaks. Go for a walk. Sleep well. And you will find your eyes are doing well too.
However, remember that your eyes are complex. If despite doing all these, you are facing eye strain, the reason could be health related, and it's best to consult a doctor.
Lakshman Subbaraman is a vision scientist and among the top 200 global optometry researchers as ranked by Clinical and Experimental Optometry journal