Dry eye dangers
For medical student Paulina Tran, computers and smart phones are a part of every day life.
"I am staring at my laptop or my iPad or iPhone almost all day long," she laments.
Six months ago, she says her eyes started paying the price. "I just started getting this, this dryness in my eyes, almost as if there's like sandpaper. 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 opthalmologists say they're seeing a new generation of younger patients walk through their office doors.
Dr. Gregg Feinerman explains, "In the past, 90% of our patients were over the age of 50 with dry eye symptoms. Now 50% of our patients are 20 to 30 year olds."
Experts say these new dry eye cases aren't 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. 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. Feinerman warns.
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," she says.
Dr. Bishop also suggests following the 20, 20, 20 rule. "About every 20 minutes take about a 20 second break, and look off into what we think 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."
If you feel symptoms use artificial tears reguarly to lubricate the eyes and reduce discomfort. Look for ones that say for lubrication.
As for Paulina, she's trying to scale back on her technology use to soothe her eyes.
"I'm trying my best to take more breaks," she promises.
While occasional dry eye is 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 clearing up your symptoms, experts suggest you consult your eye doctor.