According to a Nielsen quarterly media report released in June, Americans spend more than 10 hours a day looking at a screen. When you add up the time we stare at computers, phones, TVs, tablets, e-readers … it’s not that surprising.

Aside from consuming our time, what is all that screen time doing to our eyes? We talked to Dr. Penny Asbell, director of cornea service and refractive surgery at Mount Sinai Health System, about the symptoms of eye strain and how we can care for our eyes in this screen-dominated world.

What are the symptoms of eye strain?

Any time you don’t see well, whether it’s because of the refractive error that isn’t corrected, whether you need reading glasses that you’re not using or you have a cataract or something else, you’re going to feel like you have eye strain. People describe it in different ways. They say, “I just feel tired” or “It’s hard to read for a long time, I get headaches.” Anything that causes a change in vision could [also] cause eye strain.

How do you treat eye strain?

Depends on what’s causing it. If we’re talking about dry eyes, we often start with an artificial tear—there are about 40 different products available over the counter.

If you’re wearing contact lenses, as they dry out, that can cause eye strain. You may want to use rewetting drops for lubricating them.

A lot of people who have dry eyes may have inflammation in the ocular surface. There are anti-inflammatory eye drops that might be useful. There are a bunch of different options, it’s not one size fits all. It’s definitely worth [scheduling] a visit with an [eye care professional] to examine you.

What preventive measures you can take?

One of the common complaints about eye strain and eye irritation is when we use our electronic devices — whether it’s computers, or iPads, cellphones or whatever. One of the things that we find is that when people use [them], they don’t blink very well. If we don’t blink, it does not wet the eye.

Quite honestly, it’s pretty hard to remember to blink; what I suggest is when you’re looking at the computer, just look away. Look up at the clock, look out the window, look at the next desk, look across the room, whatever; you’ll automatically blink, and that’ll bring up the tears from the lower tear lake, as we call it, to wet the surface of the eye. That’s a simple method to relax the eyes, and give that surface a better wetting application. 

You have medical questions? We have answers. Metro is teaming up with the experts at the esteemed Mount Sinai Health System to provide answers to your most pressing medical concerns. Send us an email at askmtsinai@metro.us. We’ll select one question and publish an answer every other week.