Eyesight has worsened as lockdown has increased people’s time using screens.

An eye health charity is recommending people learn the “20-20-20” rule to protect their sight, as lockdown has increased people’s time using screens.

Fight for Sight advises looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes you look at a screen.

Out of 2,000 people, half used screens more since Covid struck and a third (38%) of those believed their eyesight had worsened, a survey suggested.

The representative survey of 2,000 adults suggested one in five were less likely to get an eye test now than before the pandemic, for fear of catching or spreading the virus.

Respondents reported difficulty reading, as well as headaches and migraines and poorer night vision.

The research charity, which commissioned a survey from polling company YouGov, said it wanted to emphasise the importance of having regular eye tests and to remind people “the majority of opticians are open for appointments throughout lockdown restrictions”.

Fight for Sight chief executive Sherine Krause said: “More than half of all cases of sight loss are avoidable through early detection and prevention methods. Regular eye tests can often detect symptomless sight-threatening conditions.” But even simple screen breaks can help to prevent eye strain, the charity suggested.

Opticians appointments are allowed. The Government guidance states that under lockdown people can leave home for medical appointments and to “avoid injury, illness or risk of harm”. The College of Optometrists said its members should continue to provide eye care under lockdown for people who experience any eyesight changes or problems. Optometrists are the professionals most likely to carry out your eye test when you visit an optician’s practice. Routine appointments can also be provided “if capacity permits, and if it is in the patients’ best interests”, the guidance states.

Clinical adviser Paramdeep Bilkhu said the college’s own research suggested just under a quarter of people noticed their vision deteriorate during the first lockdown. “Our research showed us that many people believe that spending more time in front of screens worsened their vision,” he said. “The good news is that this is unlikely to cause any permanent harm to your vision. However, it is very important that if you feel your vision has deteriorated or if you are experiencing any problems with your eyes, such as them becoming red or painful, you contact your local optometrist by telephone or online.”

The law says employers must arrange an eye test for display screen equipment (DSE) users if they ask for one, and provide glasses if an employee needs them only for DSE use.

DSE work does not cause permanent damage to eyes. But long spells of DSE work can lead to:

  • Tired eyes.
  • Discomfort
  • Temporary short-sightedness.
  • Headaches

DSE work is visually demanding, so it can make someone aware of eyesight problems they have not noticed before (including changes in eyesight that happen with age).

Employees can help their eyes by:

  • Checking the screen is well positioned and properly adjusted.
  • Making sure lighting conditions are suitable.
  • Taking regular breaks from screen work.

Employers must assess DSE workstations and take steps to reduce any health risks.

An employer must provide an eyesight test for a DSE user if they request one. The employer must also pay for the test. This should be a full eye and eyesight test by an optometrist or doctor, including a vision test and an eye examination. It’s up to the employer how they provide the test. For example, they could let users arrange the tests and reimburse them for the cost later, or they could send all their DSE users to one optician. Employers only have to pay for glasses for DSE work if the test shows an employee needs special glasses prescribed for the distance the screen is viewed at. If an ordinary prescription is suitable, employers do not have to pay for glasses.

In the summer, the UK Ophthalmology Alliance and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists calculated that at least 10,000 people had missed out on essential eye care in Britain.

In the most extreme cases, the Royal National Institute of Blind People said it feared some people were at risk of losing their sight because of a fear of attending hospital during the coronavirus pandemic.

A Royal College of Ophthalmologists spokesperson said: “It is important that people who have found significant changes in their vision seek the advice of an optometrist who will examine, and determine if the changes require further investigation by an ophthalmologist – a medically-trained eye doctor.”

Sources of information: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-55620100, https://www.hse.gov.uk/msd/dse/eye-tests.htm