Normally people have plenty of protein called MUC5AC which helps to lubricate the eye. The study found people who spent long periods of time in front of computer screens had a reduced level of the MUC5AC protein in their tears. The lack of this protein was so profound it was almost as low as the amount found in people who had authentic dry eye disease.
The difference is that one is caused by the actions of the user while the other is an actual lack of the protein. According to Keio University School of Medicine ophthalmologist Dr. Yuichi Uchino, the lead author of the study, one of the main issues is people who stare at computers for long periods of time blink less than doing other activities using the eyes. For example, those who read books will blink more often than those who read from a computer screen. This lack of blinking contributes to the lack of the eye lubrication.
Another big factor is people looking at computer screens blink differently than those doing other activities. They tend to open their eyelids more than usual, exposing more of the eye to the air. This causes an increase in the loss of tear film to drying.
While using a computer can be a great way to make and save money, this study shows it can have negative financial consequences as well. There have been a number of studies which indicate those with dry eye symptoms are less productive than those who don’t. Studies have also found those with dry eye symptoms have a higher risk of depression. There are an estimated 5 million people over the age of 50 with dry eye disease, and many millions more who work with computers that have similar symptoms.
While dry eye disease is a chronic condition for many that must be managed with over-the-counter or prescription eye drop medications, there is hope for those who are suffering symptoms due to computer use. Office workers who exhibit dry eye symptoms can make some simple changes to decrease their risk, according to Uchino:
1. Make the computer screen more eye friendly. Place the screen at a lower height with the screen tilted upward.
2. Use a humidifier in office spaces to make the air less dry, especially in office space where air conditioners are used.
3. Make the conscience effort to blink more often.
4. Use artificial tear products if necessary.
5. If symptoms are continuous, contact an eye doctor.
(Photo courtesy of Debs)