MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Your computer and smart phone may be to blame for your dry or itchy eyes. Eye doctors say thanks to technology, what used to be a problem for the old, is now becoming an epidemic among the young.
For medical student Paulina Tran, computers and smart phones are a part of her everyday life.
“I am staring at my laptop or my iPad or iPhone almost all day long,” said Tran.
And six months ago, her eyes started paying the price.
“I just started getting this dryness in my eyes, almost as if there’s sandpaper,” said Tran. “The burning sensation just became too much to handle.”
An estimated 3.2 million women and 1.7 million men over the age of 50 suffer from dry eye symptoms each year, and now ophthalmologists say they are seeing a new generation of younger patients walk through their office doors.
“In the past, 90 percent of our patients were over the age of 50 with dry eye symptoms,” said Dr. Gregg Feinerman. “Now, 50 percent of our patients are 20 to 30 years old.”
Experts say these new dry eye cases are not due to eye disease, but rather addiction to technology.
“People are staring at their iPhones, and their laptops and not blinking, which is causing evaporation of the tear film,” Feinerman said.”They’re staring at their devices for 12-hour periods and not taking breaks. And that’s causing the burning and the tearing and blurry vision.”
Dr. Rachel Bishop with the National Eye Institute says even something as simple as the position of your computer monitor could be to blame.
“I advise them to try to position the computer so it’s a little bit lower, their eyes don’t have to be open quite so wide to be looking at the screen comfortably,” said Bishop. “About every 20 minutes take about a 20 second break, and look off into what we think is far away, 20 feet. Blink a little bit, relax your focusing muscle also, and let your eye kind of have a bit of a break. And then go back to your tasks.”
And if you feel symptoms, use artificial tears regularly to lubricate the eyes and reduce discomfort.
“Look for ones that say for lubrication, not other reasons – not looking to get the red out, not looking for allergy symptoms,” said Bishop.
As for Paulina, she’s trying to scale back on her technology use to soothe her eyes.
While occasional dry eyes are probably not serious, more severe cases can cause permanent damage to the cornea and lead to complications. If artificial tears and taking breaks aren’t helping your symptoms, experts suggest you see an eye doctor.