Giving you the right sight for sore eyes (London Evening Standard)

AVeryBrightEyeLargeOn average, Londoners spend 50 hours a week staring at computer monitors, TVs, mobile phones or games consoles. But it is a myth that such exposure causes permanent damage to our eyes — you are either born with good vision or not.

However, the time we spend focusing on the same view all day can expose previously undetected eye problems. Headaches, blurred vision and extreme tiredness are all side-effects of getting too close to our screens. And young people in their twenties are particularly vulnerable to the demands placed on their vision.

One of the biggest causes of problems with our vision stems from the eyes becoming dry. This can be caused by staring at a computer screen for a long period of time.

Optometrist Brian Tompkins, a member of the British Contact Lens Association, says air-conditioning is another factor and that people simply forget to blink. Blinking is crucial for keeping the eyes lubricated. “An easy trick to remember is to blink every time you hit the return key,” says Tompkins. “People become so intensely focused they just forget, or think that if they blink they will lose their concentration.

Combined with the effect of air-conditioning, your eyes can get really dry and even inflamed.”
Weak eye muscles are another common cause of tiredness and inefficient working. Imagine your eye muscles doing press-ups hundreds of times a day and you get a sense of the strain they are under. If your muscles are sub-standard then the effort is even more tiring, says Tompkins. “A lot of people have less than average ability to focus close-up. Their eye muscles are just not up to it and the reason is genetic. Unlike other muscles, eye muscles produce involuntary movement, so exercising them doesn’t make them stronger. It’s like having to do press-ups all day.”

Another key to keeping your eyes in good shape is to take regular breaks. Staring at the horizon is an effective way of relaxing your eye muscles. That is partly why holidays are so relaxing because of the time we spend gazing at “big” skies.

Regular eye checks are a must every two years — or more frequently if you have specific problems such as short-sightedness. The days of reading letters off a chart or sitting with weighted lenses over your eyes are long gone. Today, opticians are required by law to carry out far more comprehensive checks for serious health issues such as tumours and glaucoma.

Early checks are a must to ensure poor eyesight is not left uncorrected. The Association of Optometrists (AOP) has recently launched a campaign targeted at parents to prevent lifelong visual handicaps.

A child’s vision is fully developed by the age of eight and any major changes occur at around 11, then in the late teens. Geoff Robinson, of the AOP, says: “Lots of children starting school never get their eyes tested. They don’t realise that anything is wrong because they don’t know what is normal’ and this causes all sorts of problems if they’re not properly assessed. It could be a reason why a child is underperforming at school.”

If you have to wear glasses or contact lenses from an early age there is some consolation. The natural ageing process means the crystalline lens hardens so the ability to focus up close and at middle-distance gradually reduces. So even people with “perfect” vision will have to face the optician eventually.

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