Millions of Brits are overdue an eye test, which is made worse by the fact lockdown could have played havoc with our eye health.
Screen time, poor sleep and a lack of regular eye tests could mean many of us are suffering from eye strain and wandering around with outdated prescriptions.
From March to September 2020, two million customers missed an eye test, according to new analysis from Specsavers. Some delayed appointments due to Covid concerns, while others simply let them slip off.
As lockdown eases, it’s worth putting eye health back on your priority list. Here are four ways lockdown may have messed with your eyes – and how to counteract the impacts.
1. Screen time causes eye strain
Lockdown may finally be easing, but for months we have relied on our screens for social contact – with potentially detrimental effects on our eyes.
“Our eyes are not designed to be fixed on a single object for a long period of time,” says Giles Edmonds, Specsavers clinical services director. “When we focus on our screens, especially smaller format laptops, tablets or smart devices, eyes become stressed and strained.
“They may feel uncomfortable, sore, tired and as if they are itching or burning. You may also be experiencing blurred vision and headaches, too.”
2. Missed appointments = wrong prescriptions
If you’ve skipped eye tests throughout the pandemic, there’s a high chance you’re wearing glasses or contact lenses with an outdated prescription – and this could pose a problem. Again, headaches, eye strain, blurred vision and dizziness are all possible outcomes.
“An out-of-date prescription that doesn’t take into account any new changes to vision could be dangerous – particularly if driving, too,” says Edmonds.
3. Sleep deprivation causes eye spasms
Our bodies need enough sleep to heal and repair themselves, and this includes our eyes. Unfortunately, the pandemic has messed with our sleep routines.
“If we don’t get enough, our eyes can feel uncomfortable, dry and itchy as they don’t produce enough tears and they aren’t spread across the eye’s surface effectively, as they do usually when our eyes are closed,” explains Edmonds.
“You may also find that during the day, you suffer with eye twitches or spasms, become more sensitive to light or suffer from blurry vision.”
4. Referrals for serious eye problems are down
Getting a new pair of glasses is just one reason to visit an optician – they can also spot more serious conditions that require further medical intervention.
In a usual year, Specsavers would carry out 8.6 million eye examinations and more than 600,000 people would be referred to hospital or their GP for further investigations for sight issues. But from March to September 2020, almost 130,000 fewer people were referred, meaning thousands could have a serious condition that they are unaware of.
In particular, referrals for glaucoma – known as the ‘silent thief of sight’, due to it often being completely symptom-free – were down by nearly half. Eye examinations can also help detect conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and even heart disease.
Clearly, booking an appointment for an eye test is important if you’ve overdue. Aside from that crucial first step, we asked Edmonds what else people should be doing to counteract the impacts of lockdown on their eyes.
How to look after your eye health at home
Rest your eyes
“Follow the 20:20:20 rule: look up from your screen every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Looking into the distance helps relax the focusing muscles of your eyes, which in turn reduces eye fatigue. ”
Adjust your workstation
“Adjusting your screen settings to ensure the brightness and contrast are balanced correctly can help, as well as making fonts larger. Also be mindful of how your workstation is positioned. Adjust your screen so it is 15-20 degrees below eye level and around 50-70cm away from the eyes. Make sure your room is properly lit to avoid squinting.”
“Reflections on your computer screen can cause glare and lead to eye strain. Try reducing this by attaching an anti-glare screen to your monitor or windows to avoid external light shining onto the screen. Glasses wearers can also have lenses treated with an anti-glare coating, to help limit the impact of light reflections on your eyes to reduce eye strain.”
Prioritise good self-care
As we’ve mentioned, sleep deprivation is detrimental to eye health, so try to get enough shut-eye (these tips for a good night’s sleep might help). Eating a healthy, balanced diet will also help your eye health.
“We’ve all heard that carrots are good for our eyes and there is some truth in it. That’s because carrots contain beta-carotene which helps us make Vitamin A – which is an essential vitamin for our eyes,” says Edmonds.
“It is also important to stay hydrated and make sure we eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, including dark green leaves, as well as oily fish, is good for your health and may support good eye health, too.”