The B.C. Ministry of Health announced that the public health order prohibiting gatherings and limiting travel has been extended to Feb. 5 and that means many of us will continue to be relying on screen time to connect virtually with friends and loved ones.

Since March, COVID-19 has increased the amount of time we spend indoors and on screens with more virtual events, gaming time, and gatherings over Zoom, and our eye health is being impacted by the constant strain.

As more and more British Columbians experience eye health concerns related to digital eye strain, dry eyes, and headaches, it is increasingly important to practice health habits, become eye aware, and seek professional help when experiencing eye symptoms before there is deterioration or permanent damage.

A survey conducted by the BC Doctors of Optometry (BCDO) since the onset of the pandemic found that 48% of British Columbians expressed concerns about increased screen time, yet many of them failed to take any action to address these concerns.

British Columbians are worried about the impact of increased screen time on their eye health, and the most common eye symptoms or conditions experienced by British Columbians include itchy or irritated eyes (31%), dry eye (26%), headaches (24%), and eye floaters (20%).

In light of these concerns, here are some simple guidelines that will allow families to connect with each other while ensuring reduced impact on eye health.

Get a comprehensive eye exam: If you have been homebound like many of us since March and have not had an opportunity to have an eye exam, connect with your optometrist to safely have your eyes examined.

Take frequent breaks: A good rule of thumb is to look away from your computer every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This is called the “20-20-20 rule.” This will relax the focusing muscle inside the eye to reduce fatigue.

Set up your workstation properly: Make sure you set your chair to the correct height so your feet rest comfortably on the floor and your computer screen is 20 to 24 inches from your eyes.

Some of the reasons people have not seen a doctor of optometry to address their eye symptoms in the past few months are perceptions that eye health concerns did not require medical attention (55%), concerns related to COVID-19 safety (39%), and lack of knowledge of available online or phone services (20%).

There are plenty of resources to ensure that British Columbians can receive proper eye treatment without putting their safety at risk. For example, people can use the Find a Doctor tool on the BCDO website to locate an optometrist in their area or arrange a virtual appointment by phone or secure telehealth platform to determine if an in-person eye exam is required.

It is important to keep in mind that all open optometry clinics in BC are complying with the guidelines to ensure visitors safety and the safety of others in the clinic. BC Doctors of Optometry are committed to the safety and wellbeing of our communities, patients, and staff, while delivering care to British Columbians for their eye care needs.

Your eye health should not be ignored even in the midst of a pandemic.

BCDO’s survey generated responses from 1,000 British Columbians representative of the population across the province from Aug. 7-11.

Dr. Brittany Rollett is a member of the BC Doctors of Optometry and practices at Lake Country Optometry. She also co-owns Okanagan Vision Therapy with her husband Dr. Paul Rollett.