By Denis Langlois

Canadians spend an average of 11 hours each day looking at smartphone, tablet, television and other screens, while Millennials spend even more time on digital devices at 13 hours daily, according to a new survey by the Canadian-owned research firm Leger.

The survey of 1,500 people, commissioned by Alcon Canada, is intended to shine a light on the link between excess screen time and digital eye strain, which is believed to be a form of evaporative dry eye, according to Nelson DaSilva, senior brand manager – dry eye at Alcon Canada.

“Alcon Canada wanted to find out just how many hours Canadians are spending on screens then share the implications it could have on the quality of their vision and how it can contribute to dry eye,” DaSilva tells Optical Prism.

“Highlighting digital eye strain was extremely important in terms of encouraging Canadians to proactively treat or take steps toward preventing dry eye.”

The study found that Canadians aged 18 to 34 are spending an average of 13.1 hours on screens, compared to adults over age 64 who spend 8.4 hours on average viewing screens.

Leger’s research also discovered that people in British Columbia self-reported spending the most time on screens, at 11.2 hours per day, followed by Ontario at 11.1 hours and Manitoba and Saskatchewan at 10.9 hours.

Respondents said they spend the most time on computer screens – about 4.2 hours daily on average – followed by about 3.1 hours each day looking at television screens, 2.4 hours viewing cell phones and 1.5 hours daily looking at tablets.

The Leger survey found that two-thirds of Canadians say their eyes get tired from looking at a screen, otherwise known as digital eye strain.

Digital eye strain is among the largest contributing factors towards dry eye, a condition that affects up to 25 per cent of Canadians and occurs when the eyes don’t produce enough tears or when they produce tears without the proper quality.

“Dry eye is becoming one of the most common patient complaints I see as an optometrist,” says Dr. Judy Parks, optometrist at the Ancaster Eye Clinic.

“More and more, I’m seeing patients in my clinic who are suffering from sore, tired eyes and blurry vision. They come in thinking they need to adjust their glasses prescription, but in many cases, they’re actually suffering from dry eye due to the hours they’re spending in front of screens, which is impacting eye health and vision across all ages.”

The Leger survey found that 85 per cent of Canadians have experienced at least one symptom of dry eye, which can include eye fatigue, watery eyes, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, eye redness and difficulty with nighttime driving.

DaSilva says in addition to screen time, dry eye can be caused by factors such as normal aging, hormonal changes, environmental exposure and medical conditions.

He says it wasn’t surprising to learn that so many Canadians have experienced dry eye symptoms, but Alcon was surprised to learn that 77 per cent of Canadians are unaware there are different types of dry eye requiring different types of treatment.

“Because dry eye is a chronic issue for six million Canadians, this gap in knowledge makes it even more important to educate patients and treat the root cause of their dry eye in addition to addressing its symptoms,” DaSilva says.

Alcon Canada outlines several steps for preventing dry eye.

It recommends finding the right eye drop.

Alcon Canada offers a product called Systane Complete, which is the first all-in-one drop for all types of dry eye. It features tiny, nano-sized lipid droplets that replenish and lock in moisture across the eye surface. Lipids found in Systane Complete are critical in treating the outer layer of the tear film, which helps prevent the tear evaporation often seen with digital eye strain.

Other steps including giving the eyes a rest, taking vitamins, staying hydrated and visiting an eye care professional.

Several other companies offer products to help relieve dry eye.

Bausch + Lomb offers Soothe Restore lubricant eye drops, which moisturize the eyes to provide fast temporary relief of burning and irritation due to dryness. The drops contain Restoryl mineral oils, which help to protect against tear loss, relieve dry eye symptoms and address the most common cause of dry symptoms by restoring the thickness of the lipid layer.

Other Bausch + Lomb products for soothing irritated dry eyes include Moisture Eyes artificial tears, Liopsic ophthalmic drops and gels and DuoLube Ointment.

Johnson & Johnson Vision, meanwhile, has products like Blink Intensive Moisturizing Lubricant Eye Drops and Blink Moisturizing Lubricant Eye Drops. Both formulas mimic the eye’s natural tears to strengthen tear film and help provide quick relief from dry eye symptoms.

As for Bayer, the company’s hydraSense line include hydraSense for Dry Eyes, hydraSense Advance for Dry Eyes, hydraSense Night Therapy for Dry Eyes and hydraSense for Allergy Therapy, which provides effective, long-lasting relief of dry eyes and allergy symptoms.