Eye Fatigue, Burning, Dryness?
Writer's Health Alert
I'm not a doctor and I don't play a doctor on T.V. Gosh, I
don't even write about doctors. I'm not a nurse either, or a medical assistant.
Disclaimer established, let's talk about dry eyes and the writer. Whether
you're young and gorgeous, old and glorious, or something in between, if you're
putting on the writing mileage, you're either about to experience, experiencing
or recovering from a skirmish with dry eye syndrome.
The term "dry eye" applies to a wide range of
symptoms, from simple eye fatigue to severe, systemic eye disease. For me, it
began a few years ago, with tired eyes that burned and itched. I didn't think
much of it. We writers stare at the screen all day long, all night too, if
you're a night owl like me. I frequently clock twelve to fourteen-hour days on
my computer. Given the long hours and the increased use of digital devices,
more of us are suffering from what has been termed "computer vision
According to WebMD.com
computer vision syndrome affects about 50%-90% of computer workers and is responsible for up to 10
million primary care eye examinations each year.
and I? We are not alone.
My problem worsened as my symptoms progressed. The burning
and itching became worse. Then my eyes began to ache. Sometimes, when I
scratched my eyes, the capillaries broke. Not pretty. Eventually, my eyes felt as
if they were coated with a perverse mix of glue and sand. My vision became
blurry. The light hurt my eyes. Working was hard. Sleeping was even harder.
When my eyeballs began to stick to my eyelids at night, I figured it was time to
pay a visit to the ophthalmologist.
Yeah, I know, a little late, but I'm dense, so zip it.
Once he finished his examination, the doctor made it
official. I'd made the leap from computer vision syndrome to severe dry eye
syndrome. He explained that, left untreated, dry eye disease can lead to complications,
including scratches in the cornea.
"Oh, you mean those little squiggles?"
It was going to be a long appointment.
"A condition in which there are insufficient tears to lubricate and
nourish the eye. Tears are necessary for maintaining the health of the front
surface of the eye and for providing clear vision. People with dry eyes either
do not produce enough tears or have a poor quality of tears. Dry eye is a
common and often chronic problem, particularly in older adults."
Personally, I think they should amend this entry by downplaying
the part about "older adults"—which is true, of course, but would fit
in better with my personal denial patterns. I also think they should add that, based
on anecdotal information collected on writers' forums everywhere, dry eyes
syndrome affects lots of writers, young and old. I'm just saying. Maybe next
Back to my appointment. My doctor said that dry eyes are
more susceptible to infections and chronic inflammation, which is the culprit
of severe dry eye syndrome. To treat the problem, he recommended inserting tiny
silicon-based plugs in some of my tear ducts to keep my natural tears in the
eye for as long as possible. The procedure was simple and pain free, but within
a few weeks, one of the plugs came out. I decided against replacing it. Other
options included surgical procedures to permanently close the tear ducts. Since
the words "surgical" and "permanently" give me the
heebie-jeebies, I held out.
The doctor also prescribed one of the only medications
available to treat the underlying inflammation associated with dry eye syndrome.
He mentioned that it doesn't always work for all patients. It was very
expensive, health insurance only covered a portion of it, and it took weeks
before I noticed some relief, but over several weeks, the medication did provide
a measure of relief.
In addition, the ophthalmologist recommended a regimen of
preservative-free, over-the-counter, eye drops, at least four applications
throughout the working day. A quick foray into the world of eye drops revealed
that everyone has their favorite brand and what works for some doesn't work for
others. I tried many different brands to identify the ones that worked best for
me. I would recommend you do the same. By the way, cooled eye drops offer a
quick reprieve to the tired eye. I keep mine in the refrigerator.
Also very important, the doctor insisted that I should look
away from the screen several times each hour, allowing my eyes to focus on
other things. He told me to blink and blink often. He explained that tear
production is stimulated by blinking, which is something that we can "forget"
to do when we spend our days staring at backlit screens.
Geesh. Leave it to me to forget to blink.
If you feel you might be experiencing the symptoms of severe
dry eye disease, head out to see your ophthalmologist. Tell him Dora sent you.
If you are new to writing, if you're smart and you want to prevent damage to
your eyes, here's a quick list of things you could do to protect your eyes:
Blink, blink, blink.
Keep your eyes moist. Apply preservative-free
eye drops several times a day.
Take breaks away from your computer. Several
websites advocate the 20-20-20 technique. Look away every 20 minutes, at a
distance of 20 feet, for at least 20 seconds.
Adjust your computer settings for brightness,
contrast and glare.
Here's to clear vision and rested eyes for busy writers
Dora Machado is
the award-winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and her newest
novel, The Curse Giver, available
from Twilight Times Books. She is one only a few Hispanic women writing fantasy
in the United States today. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she
developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime
of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to
her stories. When she is not writing fiction, Dora also writes
features for the award-winning blogs Murder By Four and Savvy Authors, where
writers help writers. She lives in Florida with her indulgent husband and two
very opinionated cats.