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Avoid Dry Eyes Caused by Digital Devices

A man sitting on a couch with his latop across from him, rubbing his eyes, demonstrating his eyes are dry caused by over using digital devices.

Although switching to remote work, distance learning and virtual meetups has helped keep us safe during the pandemic, it hasn’t exactly been easy on our eyes.


Scripps Clinic ophthalmologist Francis Mah, MD, says the main issue he’s seeing among patients is dry eye caused by not blinking enough.


“The issue with devices is that we don’t really have anything to break that visually intensive activity,” he says. “When we’re really focused, we don’t blink as much.”

How blinking boosts eye health

Blinking is how the eye relubricates itself. Not blinking enough can cause dryness, tiredness and feeling like something is in the eye. It can also cause blurred vision because the film of tears is responsible for two thirds of the eye’s focusing.


Chronic dry eye can lead to redness and inflammation that can take weeks or even months to reverse. In addition, it can cause corneal scarring and pterygia, aka “surfer’s eyes,” where the white of the eye begins to obscure the iris. Dr. Mah says that pterygia are similar to calluses, but they are permanent.

4 practical ways to prevent dry eyes

You may not be able to avoid screen time, but you can avoid dry eyes with these four tips from Dr. Mah:

1. Remember the “20-20-20” rule

Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to blink 20 times. Set an alarm if you need to. Lubricating eye drops or rewetting drops for contact lens wearers can supplement these 20 blinks.

2. For frequent rewetting, go preservative-free

If you use lubricating or rewetting drops more than four times a day, look for ones without preservatives. Preservative-free drops generally come in vials, as opposed to other types that come bottled.

3. Use a soothing warm compress

Apply a warm compress to keep the eye’s oil glands unclogged and healthy. A microwaveable gel mask or beanbag tends to stay warmer longer than a washcloth. However, if you do make your own compress with a washcloth, use clean, plain water that’s warm but not hot.

4. Add DHA to your diet

Dr. Mah suggests adding docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid, to your diet. You can increase your DHA intake by eating coldwater fish such as salmon, cod, and tuna, or by taking fish oil or flaxseed oil supplements.

If all else fails, talk to your doctor about prescription eye drops that curb inflammation and help the eye make more tears.

San Diego Health March 2021 Issue

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.