Having a rough afternoon at the office? It could affect more than your mood: Dry eye syndrome is on the rise, thanks to excessive screen time and offices that blast the A/C all day, finds a recent study published in the journal Cornea.
Researchers tested the tear production of 12 healthy adults while exposing them to two different environments. The “normal” environment was 70 degrees with 40 percent humidity, while the “dry” environment was 70 degrees with only five percent humidity. The dry environment was designed to mimic airplane cabins and air-conditioned offices.
Within an hour, participants in the dry environment developed dry and itchy eyes. Other symptoms of dry eye syndrome can include irritation, burning, red eyes, intermittent blurred vision, and the feeling that something is lodged in your eye, said Dr. Christopher Gelston, an assistant professor in the University of Colorado-Denver’s department of ophthalmology. If left untreated, the syndrome could lead to eye infections and cornea scarring.
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The A/C is likely to blame for dry eye syndrome if you work in an office all day, Gelston said. Why? When air circulates through vents or ceiling fans, it makes your tears evaporate faster. Technology use also exacerbates the problem: Staring at a computer or smartphone screen tends to make you blink less, which means your tears dry out even more quickly.
Want to keep your eyes moist or stop an itch that’s already hit? Try these tricks:
Eat Lunch Outdoors
Take a break from the A/C blast; the high summer humidity will soothe the surface of your eyes and allow your tear supply to rebuild.
Take a Break From The Computer
If you must spend extended periods of time on the computer, Gelston suggests pausing and redirecting your gaze from time to time so that you automatically blink more. Try taking notes by hand every so often, for example.
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Lay Off Your Phone When You’re on Breaks
It’s tempting to check your Facebook news feed when you have a free minute, but fiddling around on your phone only increases the amount of time that you spend straining your eyes.
Remove Contact Lenses
Contact lenses make dry eye syndrome worse, Gelston said. The lenses essentially float on the moisture on your eyes, and when that moisture is lacking, they create friction and irritation. Gelston suggests wearing them for shorter periods of time or skipping them altogether if your eyes are bothering you—especially if you’re spending a lot of time in a climate-controlled place.
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Buy A Humidifier
Ideally, you would bring one into your office to regulate the humidity there. HR won’t let you humidify your cubicle? It’ll still help to use one at home—particularly if you find yourself experiencing symptoms there, too, Gelston said.
Eye drops can help provide temporary relief, but if you’re using drops more than four times a day and are still feeling uncomfortable, see an eye care professional, Gelston said. There may be something else behind your dry eye syndrome—like a related medical issue or an Rx you’re using. Different treatment options like anti-inflammatory medications, implants that control the flow of your tears, and prescription eye drops could all help.
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