When I went to the opticians on Wednesday for the first time since lockdown, I knew my eyesight had got worse and they would have to prescribe me with a stronger pair of glasses at the very least.
Squinting at my TV screen while watching I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! and trying to work out if I was looking at a celebrity or a log had become a painful and embarrassing routine.
With a family history of cataracts, going fully blind and everyone in my family but my little sister having to fork out money for glasses and contact lenses regularly, I was feeling slightly anxious about my appointment.
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I even messaged and called my mother on the way there, who reassured me that I didn’t have any problems with my eyes other than not being able to make out the TV clearly.
So as I completed my eye test, I never expected the optician to turn around and tell me I wasn’t able to produce tears anymore, and that I would have to put a warm compress over my eyes for 20 minutes every day.
“When can I stop?” I asked the optician who simply explained to me: “When you have dry skin, there is no cure – you just have to moisturise every day. It’s the same with your eyes. You may be able to do it less frequently over time – but you can’t ever stop doing it.”
I looked back and admittedly, I can’t remember the last time I had a little cry.
I had assumed it was just because I had been really happy: a new job, a new flat and being back in Cardiff surrounded by my friends and family.
I never once thought it was because my tear ducts had malfunctioned and blocked up.
I hid my nerves with humour as I jokingly brought up my family history to the optician and how I shouldn’t even be surprised.
She immediately put down her pen and looked deep into my (dry) eyes.
She said: “This isn’t because of anything genetic. This has happened from too much screen use. Do you look at a lot of screens at work?”
My heart sunk when I realised that I stared at screens (two monitors, a laptop screen and a work phone to be exact) eight hours every day, for five days a week.
That’s 40 hours a week staring at a screen.
Yet I haven’t even accounted for the hours I spend scrolling through my TikTok feed and watching Netflix after work to ‘relax’ after my shift.
As painful as it is to admit it, I think the only time I don’t look at screens is when I’m asleep.
As I left the opticians, I felt like crying at how stupid I had been, although no tears were coming out.
I didn’t even want to look at my phone to order an Uber and decided to brave the 30 minute walk home in the rain. I didn’t even open up the Cardiff Bus app to look at the closest bus stops or times near me.
I ignored the pinging noises and vibrations in my pocket as my friends messaged and apps chimed at me, begging me desperately to jump back online.
As I took a scenic route back to mine past Llandaff fields, the sun was slowly setting and despite the drizzle, it looked beautiful against the green grass. I went to take a picture for my Instagram story, realised what I was doing and let out a huge groan as I shoved my phone back down to the bottom of my jacket and carried on walking home.
It sounds dramatic. I know having dry eye syndrome isn’t the worse thing in the world. It’s not Covid-19. It’s not a terminal illness. It’s not even a cataract.
It wasn’t having dry eyes which scared me. The idea of lying on my bed for 20 minutes with a warm flannel oozing onto my eyes every night actually felt quite luxurious.
It was the fact I had caused this from too much screen time. I’m only 21. As I progress further into work and my life with technology, what would happen to my eyes then?
We are all aware how bad screens and the blue light they omit are for your eyes. Yet in a world where it’s almost impossible to not look at screens, the dangers are easily forgotten.
Whether its sending emails, taking photos, texting, catching up with family and friends or listening to music – technology has become something which is second nature to us.
Tweeting has become as normal as breathing to me and I can type messages out without even looking – although now I realise that this is nothing to be proud about.
The optician told me that spending so many hours staring at a screen, in and outside of work, can cause a serious strain on your eyes. We tend to blink less while staring at the screen and the movement of it means our eyes have to work harder to focus.
The distance and angle we hold the screen at can also cause added strain. All these issues add up and can lead to lasting effects on your vision, especially in children.
I grew up in the era where smartphones and social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat had just started to take off.
My friend always has trouble putting her two-year-old son to bed as he often cries for hours to play games on her phone. I never quite thought about the dangers technology has on our future generations until now.
It’s not just young children who are at risk. Professionals, students, teenagers, even parents when they’ve discovered emojis for the first time – most of us are probably guilty for having way too much screen time.
In fact the Welsh Government found that 93% of people in Wales were using the internet in 2020, with 82% accessing it several times a day.
So I know I’m not the only one out there damaging their eyes without even acknowledging it.
It starts with your eyes getting tired from the screens. When using them at night, it can be hard to go to sleep. Headaches, double vision and difficulties concentrating are common. Don’t ignore these signs.
Then over time, your eyes can become dry and irritated like mine. This can impact the health of your eyes and cause blurry vision.
If that wasn’t enough, blue light released from your digital devices can cause nearsightedness, damage the light-sensitive cells in your eye and even lead to a loss of your eyesight altogether.
Not being able to cry has really opened up my eyes at how much screen time I’m consuming and how it’s secretly and slowly damaging me. More importantly, it’s made me realise that despite how dangerous these devices can be, there is no escaping from them in this modern world.
Even going out, most gyms, bars, restaurants all require you to access the building or order food and drink via your phone, thanks to Covid-19.
That doesn’t mean we can’t all still make a conscious effort to protect our eyes as much as we can.
As well as the recommended warm compress and some new expensive glassers with anti-blue light lens, I have adjusted all my social media platforms to dark mode and now only ever use them for work purposes.
With 2022 just around the corner, I have already decided my New Year’s resolution is to limit my screen time and started on it early.
It hasn’t been as bad as I imagined. I’ve re-read the whole The Hunger Games trilogy which reminded me why they were my favourite books in the first place.
It’s been nice actually going outside and exploring Canton after renting here for a few months. I’ve realised there are actually a lot of beautiful green spaces as well as some quirky shops in this bustling inner city community, you just have to put your phone down and actually look.
Even going to the gym, talking to my housemates offline and cooking nutritious meals instead of ordering takeaways from the Just Eat app has opened my eyes to the beauty of life. It really is in the little things that we often overlook when staring at screens and worrying about social media.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to keep your eyes safe when you can’t completely refrain from technology.
Giving your eyes a break and using the 20-20-20 rule, where you take a break every 20 minutes and look at a object 20 feet away for 20 seconds, is a simple but effective way to reduce eye strain that I’m going to start doing a lot more in my shifts now.
You can also adjust the brightness of your screens, adjust them slightly downward and keep them 25 inches away from your eyes – your eyes work harder when the screen is closer to your face.
Lastly, make sure to get a yearly eye test to keep on top of any chronic eye conditions developing. As someone who hates going anywhere where I have to book a appointment, I’m so grateful I decided to go to the opticians on my day off.
If I had carried on with my excessive screen use inside and outside of work, I know I probably would have suffered from more than just dry eyes.
So let this be a friendly warning to you all – take care of your eyes and limit your screen time. Also, try to remember the last time you cried. If it hasn’t been for a few months, this may be a good chance to call up the opticians.
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