Am I the only person who feels like their vision has got worse during the pandemic? It’s no wonder, given that I’m on screen for a big chunk of the day. You too?
I thought maybe the eyesight thing was my imagination until the charity Fight for Sight recently released the results of a poll, which found that more than one in three people in the UK feel the same way.
They put it down to increased screen time. Not surprising, really.
The poll of around 2,000 adults revealed that about half of respondents’ screen time had increased since the pandemic began, with one-third saying it had risen by more than two hours, up to four hours a day. Some 38% felt that this was having a negative impact on their vision.
Of those who thought their eyesight had deteriorated during the pandemic:
- 39% said they had difficulty reading as a result
- 23% reported having had headaches/migraines
- 17% believed they had poorer night vision
Nevertheless, more than one in five respondents said they were less likely to get an eye test now vs. pre-pandemic because they feared catching or spreading the virus.
I find these figures worrying, even though research is apparently inconclusive about the link between increased screen time and deteriorating eyesight.
Even so, Fight for Sight says that studies highlight a potential risk of rising myopia (short-sightedness) rates due to children spending more time indoors, performing “near tasks” and using smartphones and other devices. I’m going to take a leap and assume this could apply to locked-down adults, too.
Severe myopia can raise your risk of sight loss from a torn or detached retina, among other problems.
How to protect your eyes during the pandemic
I was curious to know whether the anti-blue light screen protectors that I’d recently bought for my devices were any good at protecting my eyesight, so I got in touch with Fight for Sight to find out.
The charity told me that using anti-blue light screen protectors may help with getting a good night’s sleep, but there’s very little evidence of their efficacy as far as protecting vision goes. The same applies to anti-blue light glasses that have been gaining popularity.
Although the blue light products may not save our eyesight, the charity makes these recommendations for keeping our eyes healthy during the pandemic:
- Adopt the “20-20-20” approach, which recommends that for every 20 minutes spent using a screen, you should try to look away at something that’s 20 feet away from you for a total of 20 seconds. This should reduce eye strain.
- Get your eyes tested if you feel your sight has deteriorated. If you’re due a routine check-up, get your eyes tested even if you think your vision is fine. Opticians in the UK have remained open during the lockdown.
Here are some other ways to be more aware of your screen time and/or cut back:
- Don’t bring your phone to bed with you – read a book instead
- Switch your phone from a colour screen to greyscale – check out the Go Gray movement
- Turn off or reduce how often you receive push notifications for your apps
- Set more rigid working hours & tell colleagues so that you’re not getting messages at all hours
- Tell friends that you’re trying to reduce your screen time and only to message you at certain times
- This may sound counterintuitive, but there are apps that can help you, like Freedom, Moment and BreakFree
Tips for maintaining healthy eyes in general
On a more general note, Fight for Sight suggests these tips for keeping your eyes healthy, pandemic or not:
- Being fit and well can help your eyes stay healthy. Maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure may help with eye health.
- Use protective goggles or glasses when gardening, doing DIY and playing sports involving flying balls.
- Make sure your diet includes nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and vitamins C and E (see below). These may help to slow the progress of age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration.
Nutrition and eye health
While I had the attention of the charity, I decided to ask for more details on their advice around nutrition, as it’s known to play such an important role in eye health. Here’s what Professor Jeremy Guggenheim, a Fight for Sight funded researcher who specialises in myopia, said:
“Eating foods rich in vitamins C or E, and beta-carotene, has been shown to slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration in randomised controlled trials of elderly adults. Green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits are excellent sources of these vitamins and beta-carotene. Oily fish such as salmon are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.
There is some evidence that eating sufficient Omega-3 in childhood is needed for the eyesight to develop optimally. There is weaker evidence suggesting that food supplements containing Omega-3 can slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration in elderly adults.”
If you’re wondering how you can make sure you’re getting these important nutrients from food, read on for some suggestions.
Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids
A US National Institutes of Health (NIH) fact sheet explains what you need to know about Omega-3s and lists the following foods as the best sources:
- Fish and other seafood – especially cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines
- Nuts and seeds – flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts
- Plant oils – flaxseed oil, soybean oil and canola oil
- Enriched foods – certain brands of eggs, yogurt, juices, milk, soy beverages and infant formulas are enriched with Omega-3s
Foods containing zinc
In its fact sheet on zinc, the NIH has a useful table listing zinc-containing foods and the quantities of zinc they contain. Here are some of the top foods listed:
- Seafood (oysters, crab, lobster)
- Red meat (beef, pork)
- Chicken (dark meat is best)
- Pumpkin seeds
Foods packed with vitamin C
The NIH fact sheet on vitamin C lists the fruits and vegetables that are the best sources of vitamin C. You can get recommended amounts of vitamin C by eating a variety of foods including the following:
- Citrus fruits – oranges and grapefruit, as well as red and green pepper and kiwifruit
- Other fruits and vegetables – broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, baked potatoes, tomatoes, peas and spinach
Note: The vitamin C content of food may be reduced by prolonged storage and cooking. Cooking methods that are the least likely to cause vitamin C loss are microwaving and steaming.
Foods containing vitamin E
The best sources of vitamin E include the following, according to the NIH:
- Vegetable oils – wheat germ, sunflower and safflower oils
- Nuts & seeds – peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds
- Green vegetables – spinach and broccoli
Food companies also add vitamin E to some breakfast cereals, fruit juices, margarines and spreads and other foods. To find out which ones have vitamin E, check the product labels.
Beta-carotene containing foods
Beta-carotene is a carotenoid that’s converted into vitamin A in the body (carotenoids are the plant pigments that give many fruits and vegetables their bright red, yellow and orange hues). Some great sources of beta-carotene are:
- Vegetables – carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, spinach, kale, peppers
- Fruit – melon, papaya, oranges, mango, tomatoes
According to Nutri-Facts, it’s important to note that the absorption of beta-carotene in food requires the presence of fat in a meal.
Let me know whether you think your eyes have suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic… and if you found this blog helpful or not. I’d love to hear from you in the comments!