Ciara Wright PhD NT, from our Food Crew tells us about the impact of increased screen time when working from home:

In my day to day nutrition clinic, our consultations are now taking place online over Zoom.  Ironically many of my clients are now reporting increased side effects from spending too much time in front of their screen.  Digital eye strain can result in headaches, migraine, fatigue, and worsening eyesight.  Often they are looking for nutritional advice to offset this and there are some tips I can share but for starters, we have to try and minimise our exposure.

Take breaks from your screen

Of course we should take breaks from work anyway; we need to get up, move around and increase our activity levels.  But according to the Mayo Clinic taking a break from reading and giving your eyes a rest is a good way to reduce eye strain. The way we read from a digital screen is also different to reading from paper or a book.  The light and glare is much brighter, the contrast between the text and background is different and the distance at which we read from is usually much further.  It’s not friendly to the environment to print out lots of documents from which to read but if you had a detailed document you really needed to trawl over, your eyes might thank you for it. 

Turn off video during meetings if you can

Where meetings were once face to face, over a coffee or around a table, now they can be back to back without moving an inch.  In order to try to minimise digital eye strain, try to have some of your meetings without video.  If you really don’t need to contribute much, or show your eager face, then switch off the video mode and try to get away from your screen for a short period.  Even better, take the online meeting on your phone, plug in your earphones and stroll around the garden if you can do this without being too distracted. 

Take notes with an old-fashioned pen and paper

If you are typing notes, you may have the meeting and a couple of documents across a split screen or several windows open at once.  What happens here is that you need to switch focus constantly from the small faces in the meeting, back to the white background with the teeny tiny text on it.  This is very tiring for your eyes.  Try to keep the screen to just the meeting and use a pen and paper.  Any time spent looking at your writing pad, is time away from the screen.  Again, an option is to dial in on your phone and turn off the glaring computer screen for the duration. 

Get your eyes checked

According to the American Optometric Association, even very minor underlying eye conditions can quickly lead to digital eye strain when our eyes are under extra pressure. Get your eyes checked and ask about specific advice for computer use. Some regular lenses for minor eyesight problems (especially if you buy off the shelf) are not suitable for the kinds of distances used when reading a computer.  Some people who do not regularly need glasses or corrective lenses may still need glasses specifically for computer use. 

Watch out for other causes

We can certainly get symptoms of fatigue and headache from dehydration also.  Without the stimulation of the work environment and no lunch room banter, we can often find ourselves pottering to the kitchen just to break up the day.  If you are reaching for one too many caffeinated drinks and not stocking up enough water, you could be dehydrated which may confound symptoms of headache and fatigue.  Bring up a large jug of water with some chopped fresh fruit or a large flask of herbal tea to drink slowly over the day. 

Consider antioxidant support

Lutein, zeaxanthin and meso zeaxanthin are macular carotenoids, that is, types of vitamin A found in the eye.  There are a large number of studies demonstrating the efficacy of these antioxidants on age-related eye damage caused by oxidative stress.  In 2017 a controlled clinical trial showed that supplementation with these antioxidants may also improve symptoms of digital eye strain. There was significant improvement in headache frequency, eye fatigue, eye strain and all visual performance measurements comparing supplementation to placebo.

About the author : Aine Ryan