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How to take care of your eyes while in self-quarantine

mother and daughter resting their eyes on the sofa at home

It’s possible that for many of us the past few COVID-19-frenzied months are something we never thought we’d experience. Suddenly the terms “self-quarantine” and “global pandemic” are used in everyday conversation and a simple cough is enough to send people into a panic.

The government has advised everyone to stay indoors and avoid physical contact with other individuals. With this expectation in place, more eyeballs are glued to phones, TVs and computers than ever before. This fixation, if not addressed, can negatively influence your mental and physical health, as well as the condition of your eyes.

Applying some tips and tricks to promote eye health, like taking screen breaks, choosing eye-healthy foods and wearing computer glasses, can save your eyes from unnecessary strain while you’re cooped up at home. 

Make an eye-approved grocery list 

Walking down the aisles of a grocery store and seeing bare shelves can feel frustrating and even kind of eerie. With supermarkets experiencing temporary shortages in everyday items, finding all the things on your shopping list can become a challenge.

Choosing healthy foods shouldn’t be forfeited, even when a trip to the market becomes tricky. Your diet has a big influence on the condition of your overall well-being, as well as the health of your eyes.

If carrots are out of stock, don’t panic. Rest assured that other eye-friendly grocery items are available that will get the job done.

When you think of “eye-healthy foods,” carrots are likely the first thing that come to mind because they have an abundance of vitamin A. However, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, broccoli and spinach also have their fair share of vision-boosting vitamin A.

Zinc makes it possible for your body to absorb more vitamin A, making it the perfect sidekick. Besides hyping up vitamins, zinc heightens your immune system’s efficiency, which is invaluable during a global pandemic. To get more zinc in your diet, add things like shellfish, beans, meat and nuts to your grocery list.

In times like these, the temptation to reach for that bag of cheese puffs is real. It’s OK to let yourself indulge a little, but you should also give your eyes some love by incorporating some of these foods:

  • Foods with omega-3: Fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and tuna are high in EPA and DHA — the dynamic duo of omega-3s. Flax seeds and flaxseed oil have similar benefits for vegetarians, but don’t have the EPA or DHA of fish.

  • Foods with antioxidants: Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao (or cocoa), blueberries and artichokes have a number of health benefits, especially for eyes.

  • Foods with vitamin E: Whole-grain cereal, almonds, hazelnuts (as well as most other nuts) and spinach are high in vitamin E.

Allow your eyes to rest

It’s likely that your eyes are just as stressed as you are right now. When you combine the shortage of natural light that comes with being stuck at home with the influx of screen time, you get eye strain, no matter how young or old you are.

Digital eye strain, or computer vision syndrome, occurs when the eyes are subjected to prolonged, uninterrupted screen time. Symptoms of digital eye strain are most often temporary, but nonetheless uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Incorporating some well-deserved breaks in your screen viewing can dramatically reduce commonly experienced symptoms, such as blurry vision, dry eyes and headaches. 

Many people use the 20-20-20 rule as a way to prevent digital eye strain symptoms. The instructions are simple, yet effective:

For every 20 minutes of screen time, look away from your screen and focus on an object located 20 feet away for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Gazing at an item in the distance gives the focusing muscle in the eye (called the ciliary muscle) a much-needed break — think of it as the cool-down lap after running a mile.

Looking off in the distance briefly also relaxes the muscles outside of the eyes (called extraocular muscles) that work harder to keep your eyes aligned when looking at close-up objects like your computer screen.  

Just as working on your laptop causes eye strain, so does video game play and tablet use. Implementing the 20-20-20 rule with your children can help prepare them for a future full of screen use.

Stepping away from your screen for longer periods of time, in addition to 20-second breaks, is essential for putting your eyes and your mind at ease. If you’ve been in front of a screen for a while, step away to cook a meal or take a walk. It may surprise you how much of a difference five or 10 minutes can make.

SEE RELATED: Is the COVID-19 lockdown affecting children’s vision?

Invest in blue-light-blocking glasses

Computer glasses with an intermediate prescription help you focus more comfortably on your computer screen. These glasses can also feature an anti-reflective coating and blue light filtering, which can decrease glare. The lenses of blue-light-filtering glasses are sometimes tinted a slight shade of yellow, which reduces the amount of blue-violet light entering the eye.

The special lenses filter out high-energy visible (HEV) light — a light emitted from practically every digital screen. The lenses of blue-light-blocking glasses are sometimes tinted a slight shade of yellow, which neutralizes blue light and limits the irritation and potential harm caused to your eyes.

These days, many modern phones and computers offer a setting that warms the display, which reduces blue light emitted by the screen.

What coronavirus has to do with our eyes

The primary way the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is spread is via respiratory droplets from a person who is infected. Transmittance occurs through moist mucous membranes in the body — primarily those of the nose and mouth.

It may also be possible for the moist conjunctiva of the eye and eyelids to be a way to contract the virus, causing COVID-related conjunctivitis. This route of infection appears to be relatively rare, however. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), conjunctivitis occurs only in about 1% to 3% of people with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Still, if you want the best protection possible, health experts recommend wearing a face shield or safety goggles to shield your eyes, since a face mask alone won't protect your eyes from the coronavirus.

For individuals who regularly wear glasses, you may unconsciously be adding a plate of armor to your defense against the virus.

As the AAO explains, a pair of specs may help protect your eyes from exposure to some of these respiratory droplets. Although the security of a face shield or a pair of goggles far surpasses that of eyeglasses or sunglasses, any lens surface area can help prevent some airborne droplets containing the virus from reaching your eyes.

While using your eyeglass lenses as two little shields against COVID-19 is pretty neat, it makes it all the more critical to keep them clean. If you adjust and handle your glasses throughout the day, you raise the risk of passing germs from your hands to the frames that rest on your face. 

It’s also been suggested by the AAO to ditch your contact lenses and wear glasses for the time being. Individuals who wear contacts are more prone to eye irritation, which leads them to rub and touch their eyes more often. 

SEE RELATED: How to protect your eyes: Coronavirus linked to pink eye

Stay the course

If you’re feeling frustrated, bored or lonely during this time of isolation, know that you aren’t alone. We’re all feeling the effects of being stuck at home, but it’s the only way to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

During this difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic, take care of yourself by practicing good, healthy habits — including healthy eye habits. Being kind to your eyes in the face of today’s screen-heavy culture can make them more comfortable now and in the future.

SEE RELATED: 10 ways to keep your eyes healthy in the pandemic

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