(WFLX) - Do your eyes feel irritated, dry or itchy at the end of the day?
Turns out your computer and smart phone may be to blame. Eye doctors say thanks to technology, what used to be a problem for the old, is now becoming an epidemic amongst the young.
For medical student Paulina Tran, computers and smart phones are a part of every day life. "I am staring at my laptop or my iPad or iPhone almost all day long."
Six months ago, her eyes started paying the price. "I just started getting this, this dryness in my eyes, almost as if there's like sandpaper. The burning sensation just became too much to handle."
An estimated 3.2 million women and 1.7 million men over the age of 50 suffer from dry eye symptoms each year, and now opthalmologists say, they're seeing a new generation of younger patients walk through their office doors. "In the past, 90 percent of our patients were over the age of 50 with dry eye symptoms. Now, 50 percent of our patients are 20 to 30 year olds," said Ophthalmologist Gregg Feinerman, M.D.
Experts say these new dry eye cases aren't due to eye disease, but rather addiction to technology. "People are staring at their iPhones and their laptops and not blinking which is causing evaporation of the tear film. They're staring at their devices for 12-hour periods and not taking breaks. And that's causing the burning and the tearing and blurry vision."
Dr. Rachel Bishop with the national eye institute says even something as simple as the position of your computer monitor could be to blame. "I advise them to try to position the computer so it's a little bit lower, their eyes don't have to be open quite so wide to be looking at the screen comfortably."
She also suggests following the 20, 20, 20 rule. "About every 20 minutes, take about a 20 second break, and look off into what we think far away – 20 feet. Blink a little bit, relax your focusing muscle also, and let your eye kind of have a bit of a break. And then go back to your tasks."
If you feel symptoms, use artificial tears reguarly to lubricate the eyes and reduce discomfort. "Look for ones that say for lubrication, not other reasons – not looking to get the red out, not looking for allergy symptoms."
As for Paulina, she's trying to scale back on her technology use – to soothe her eyes. "I'm trying my best to take more breaks."
While occasional dry eye is probably not serious, more severe cases can cause permanent damage to the cornea and lead to complications.
If artificial tears and taking breaks aren't clearing up your symptoms, experts suggest you consult your eye doctor.