Goodbye, sore eyes
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If the eyes are a window to the soul, sore and itchy eyeballs may give insight into our screen time. At least one in four of us is suffering from dry, uncomfortable eyes, and things have worsened as screen time has increased over the past two years.
“It’s very unnatural to stare at a screen all day – we haven’t evolved to it,” says Alex Ionides, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital. Factors such as stress, age and lack of sleep can all contribute to our eyes feeling unhappy. But spending hours on a computer is a particular irritant because it messes with our blinking.
“It’s called ‘computer-vision syndrome’,” Ionides continues. “If you’re talking to people in a room, your eyes act and blink normally. If you’re looking into a screen, you subconsciously don’t want to blink because you’re concentrating hard and don’t want to lose focus.” Your blink rate can drop from around 18 blinks a minute to three. And blinking, says Moorfields consultant ophthalmologist Dawn Sim, is a big deal. “Everyone thinks of tears as water,” she tells me. “In fact, the tear film is a beautiful infrastructure composed of three layers: mucin [mucus], aqueous [watery], then a lipid [oily] layer on top. The blink is essential because it spreads a protective coating of these layers across the cornea – the surface of the eyeball.”
Perfect peepers: drops and mascaras to help you see clearly
Anything that impairs this film plays into the scratchy feeling known as “dry eye”. To help the growing number of sufferers, Ionides and Sim have joined with UCL professor of experimental ophthalmology Marcus Fruttiger to create MTHK Eye Spray (£15.99 for 10ml). As well as soothing and hydrating the eye with pro-vitamin B5, it contains liposomes to strengthen the lipid layer. “This is critical,” says Ionides. “If the oily layer is impaired, the aqueous layer starts to evaporate.” The spray can be used throughout the day over make-up or contact lenses.
“Sprays and drops vary in thickness,” says Moorfields consultant eye surgeon Daniel Ezra. “You want to find something with the right viscosity for your particular eye, and which feels good to you.” Drops may suit better, in which case try Hyabak Dry Eye Drops (£9.99 for 10ml) or Hylo-Forte Eye Drops (£11.50 for 10ml).
What else? Perhaps reconsider the halo light. While it may diminish wrinkles, it adds glare that can also make us blink less. Vary your point of focus – every 20 minutes, look for 20 seconds at something 20ft away – and think twice about air conditioning.
Avoid irritants too. “I ask patients to show me their mascara,” sighs Sim. “I say, ‘Throw it away!’ There are so many bugs.” Replacing it every three months is vital. And steer clear of flaky product – better a tubing mascara, such as Hourglass Unlocked (£29) or Kevyn Aucoin The Volume (£22). These form polymer-based cylinders around each lash that can be washed off with water. Or try a long-lasting, non-irritating formula such as Chantecaille Faux Cils (£63) or Kjaer Weis Im-Possible (£30). “And at the end the day,” says Sim, “wash it all off.”
“As with any organ, a healthy diet will also help,” says Ionides. For an extra boost, the MTHK team has launched Eye Vitamins (£29.99 for 30-day supply), with zinc and B vitamins to support eye function, and extract of maqui berry, shown to help symptoms of dry eye. The supplement also contains highly concentrated carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin – the antioxidants in orange vegetables that help protect cells in the retina. While 20th-century cautions against straining the eyes in poor light have turned into those about staring at a flickering screen display, “essentially, your grandmother was right”, says Ionides. “Eat your carrots – or carotenoids.”