By Jenny Hope
PUBLISHED: 17:47 EST, 30 March 2012 | UPDATED: 17:51 EST, 30 March 2012
Millions are developing ‘dry eye’, a condition that results in gritty, itchy, inflamed eyes, thanks to hours staring at a screen.
When we use such devices, the mind focuses so strongly on the screen we can ‘forget’ to blink, according to dry eye specialist Dr Christine Purslow. This can affect the eye’s lubrication system, she said.
We normally blink 12-15 times a minute, but using a computer screen can cut this to seven or eight a minute.
This leaves the tear film – the lubricating substance that protects the surface of the eye – not working properly.
About 30 per cent of those over 50 have dry eye but numbers are rising, with many more young people affected.
‘As a nation we are getting older, which means the proportion suffering age-related dry eye is increasing, where the tear film over the surface of the eye deteriorates with age,’ Dr Purslow said.
‘But younger people are experiencing problems because of the modern office, with computers and air conditioning making it worse, as well as home use of display screens.
‘Using a screen on your lap, the iPad for example, has a similar effect to using a screen on your desk – you blink less.’ Dr Purslow, director of the contact lens and anterior eye research unit at Cardiff University, said soft contact lens wearers were particularly at risk.
Clinical trials show that tear substitutes can remedy the problem by stabilising the tear film within two to three months.
Other DIY measures include having a screen break, changing the focus of the eye by looking into the distance regularly, and making a concerted effort to blink more.