An eye health charity is recommending people learn the “20-20-20 rule” to protect their eyesight, as research reveals lockdown has increased the amount of time we spend staring at screens.
Nearly two in five (38%) people in the UK who have been using screens more during lockdown believe their eyesight has been affected as a result, leading to difficulty reading, migraines and poorer night vision, according to a poll by Fight for Sight.
The charity therefore wants to encourage people to adopt the 20-20-20 rule to help prevent eye strain.
The rule recommends that for every 20 minutes spent using a screen, you should try to look away at something that is 20 feet away from you for a total of 20 seconds.
Watch: Why so many families are taking a tech break in 2021
Almost half (49%) of respondents to the survey, conducted by YouGov on behalf of Fight for Sight, said their screen time has increased since the pandemic began, with one third (33%) of these saying it has increased by more than two hours.
Shockingly, half (50%) of students and 42% of working adults believe an increase in screen time during the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected their sight.
Despite concern about the impact screen time could be having on eyesight, more than one in five (21%) respondents said they were less likely to get an eye test now, than they were before the pandemic, because of fear of catching or spreading the virus.
While nearly one in ten (9%) were less likely to get an eye test because they believed it was too expensive.
Fight for Sight wants to emphasise the importance of having regular eye tests and remind people that the majority of opticians are open for appointments throughout lockdown restrictions.
“More than half of all cases of sight loss are avoidable through early detection and prevention methods,” says Fight for Sight chief executive Sherine Krause.
“Regular eye tests can often detect symptomless sight-threatening conditions.”
Krause recommends people should also continue routine eye care throughout the pandemic and get their eyes tested if they feel their sight has deteriorated.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic having forced so many of us to move to digital working, online learning and even virtual socialising, it is not surprising that our screen time has soared this year,” she adds.
“However, it’s vital that the benefits of increased digital access and use during lockdown do not come at the detriment of our eye health.”
Henry Leonard, head of clinical and regulatory at the Association of Optometrists reiterates the importance of screen breaks and maintaining eye health during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Many of us have been using screens more during lockdown, and whilst there’s no evidence this causes any permanent harm to the eyes, it can certainly cause temporary problems like eyestrain and headaches,” he explains.
Leonard says it is important to take regular breaks from the screen, and relax your eyes by looking at something in the distance.
“Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and don’t forget to blink – it may sound strange but studies have found that people tend to blink less often when using a screen, which can make your eyes feel dry and tired,” he adds.
“Finally, don’t forget to wear glasses or contact lenses if your optometrist has recommended them for screen work.”
Other eye care tips from Leonard include not smoking, having a good diet, and using good quality sunglasses to protect your eyes from too much UV light in the sun.