New study says staring at screens all day changes eye secretions

Office workers who spend long hours looking at computer screens have changes in their tear fluid similar to people with the disease known as dry eye, according to a study from Japan. The protein MUC5AC, secreted by cells in the upper eyelid, makes up part of the normally occurring mucus layer, or “tear film,” that keeps the eye moist. But study participants with the most screen time had MUC5AC levels nearing those of people with diagnosed dry eye.

When we stare at computers, our blinking times decreased compared to reading a book at the table.

Dr Yuichi Uchino, ophthalmologist and an author of the study

People staring at screens also tend to open their eyelids wider than while doing other tasks, and the extra exposed surface area in addition to infrequent blinking can accelerate tear evaporation and is associated with dry eye disease, said ophthalmologist Dr Yuichi Uchino. People with dry eyes at work tend to be less productive and are more likely to be depressed, said previous studies. Doctors also recommend using a humidifier at the office and avoiding being in the direct path of the wind from an air conditioner.

We advise the office workers suffering from ocular fatigue and dry eye symptoms that they should blink more frequently in an intended manner during [screen use], and that they should use artificial tears. And they should ask an eye care doctor if their symptoms still remain.

Dr Yuichi Hori, department of Ophthalmology at Toho University Omori Medical Center