According to health professionals, the signs and symptoms of dry eye syndrome (DES) have become quite common among people across the world since March of last year. The main reason behind the uptick in DES cases can be attributed to widespread mask mandates across the world. Wearing masks hinders the normal flow of air from our nostrils and diverts some of the air we breathe out towards our eyes.
When this happens continually for long hours, it causes the natural lubrication of the eyes to dry up. This is why healthcare providers and essential workers, who are required to wear masks for close to 50 hours a week, have endured dry and itchy eyes the most.
Patients who are wearing masks for extended periods of time are also likely to encounter these symptoms. According to a study published last year, the elderly and those with an impaired immune system are also more likely to suffer from this issue. Interestingly, this includes those who have never previously suffered from dry eyes.
Ill-fitting masks can worsen the symptoms because of the continuous flow of exhaled air on the exposed eye while breathing. So, make sure that you wear a properly fitting mask that will help reduce airflow directed at the eyes. Also, if you have to wear a mask all day, make sure you stay away from screens at the end of the day. Take breaks and make sure that you blink regularly. Placing a warm compress on your eyes for a few minutes before bed will also help.
2. Computer Vision Syndrome
The pandemic forced most of us to stay at home all year. Millions of people are still working from home, but even those who don't are glued to their computer- or mobile screens as they can’t venture out. Digital screens make the eyes work harder. The more time we spend in front of them, the more we strain our eyes. Staying home and spending hours staring at digital screens has led to an increase in eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, and dry eyes in the last year.
These are all symptoms of computer vision syndrome, also referred to as digital eye strain. The American Optometric Association describes the condition as “a group of eye- and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader, and cell phone use.”
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, make sure that you're taking frequent screen-time breaks. In many cases, wearing glasses prescribed specifically for computer use may improve your symptoms. Using screen glare filters on your devices will also be quite helpful, especially if you have to spend several hours every day in front of screens. However, if you experience a steady decline in vision, please see an eye doctor.
3. Convergence Insufficiency
Another common ocular issue associated with the pandemic is convergence insufficiency (CI). The American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology & Strabismus describes the condition as “the inability to maintain binocular function (keeping the two eyes working together) while working at a near distance.” Usually, one or both eyes move outward when focusing on a word or object nearby.
While the exact causes of CI are still unknown, health experts believe that people are experiencing these symptoms during prolonged near-work, such as reading or spending time in front of a computer screen. The symptoms of CI include blurry vision, double vision, eyestrain, vision problems, headaches, trouble concentrating, and difficulty in reading.
Patients often complain of having read a page in a book and suddenly becoming confused about what they read. The symptoms of CI can be aggravated when one spends long hours staring at a digital screen because people tend to blink less while focusing on digital screens.
Ophthalmologists generally recommend doing pencil push-ups for people who experience mild symptoms of convergence insufficiency. Just hold a pencil at arm’s length and slowly bring it towards your nose until you see double. Keep doing this for a few minutes every hour while you're doing near-work, and it should help.
4. Corneal abrasions
Cases of ocular injuries and corneal abrasions have become pretty common during the pandemic, as more and more people are trying to finish home projects and other DIY tasks in quarantine. A corneal abrasion is basically a scratch on the surface of the eye caused by a foreign body like flying dust, specks of metal, grains of sand, a fingernail, and other debris that get trapped in the eye. You may endure symptoms like eye pain, watery eyes, inflammation, or blurred vision. Thankfully, most corneal abrasions are mild and can be treated easily.
If you scratch your eye, rinse it immediately with clean water or saline solution. Blinking several times will also help remove the little particles of sand or dust trapped in your eye. However, if these actions don’t bring any relief, then it's best that you get your eye checked.
Corneal abrasions can be prevented by wearing safety goggles while doing household tasks. Also, refrain from rubbing or putting pressure on the eyes.
5. Central serous chorioretinopathy
Central serous chorioretinopathy happens when fluid builds up under the retina. This can lead to blurred central vision, dark spots, and distorted vision. The most common cause for this condition is stress. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a tremendous amount of stress to people across the globe, many have been experiencing central serous chorioretinopathy in recent months. This condition generally affects just one eye at a time, but both eyes can be affected at the same time as well.
The best way to treat central serous chorioretinopathy is to manage your stress. So, try and find ways to relax if you are under too much stress. Mediate, eat healthy, exercise, and sleep well. Usually, these should help keep the symptoms in check. But if they persist, then it would be a good idea to get your eyes checked by a professional.
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