As we find ourselves coping with the “new normal” that is social distancing and self-isolation, many of us are now more than ever glued to our screens. Whether they are our digital devices (phones, tables, etc.) to stay up to date with social media or news feeds, to our TV screens binging with unlimited shows and movies to help us get through our days, we are straining our eyes more than usual causing us to squint.
Many of us go through our day squinting without even realizing it. Overtime, it can become uncomfortable, tiring, and may even lead to wrinkles. Most people who squint do it to see better, especially if something in their vision is blurry. There is no clear answer on how harmful it can be for eyes, but it may be sign of a problem. For patients who come in complaining they have to constantly strain their eyes to see, here’s a breakdown of why people may squint and how you can help.
HOW SQUINTING HELPS OUR VISION
Squinting limits the light from other directions entering your eyes by allowing the incoming light rays to focus more accurately on the retina by temporarily changing the shape of the eyes.i By changing how much light enters your eye and changing the shape of your eye, squinting can help the eyes focus on certain objects.
If your patients are wondering why they have a reflex to squint in order to see certain things, close or far, explain to them that their eyes work similarly to cameras. Much like a camera, their eyes also have an aperture (their pupil) and a light sensitive surface (the layer of rod and cone cells in the back of their eye they know as the retina).ii The same way a camera lens adjusts to focus on objects, the eye also has a ring of muscle, known as the Ciliary muscle, to help stretch and squish the lens into shape as it focuses on certain objects that are close or far.iii
Explain to your patients that when they look at something in front of them, they are also seeing everything around it, whether they notice it or not. When they squint, they are zeroing in on a specific spot. In order to help them better understand, here’s an easy at-home trick to show them how squinting works:
CONSEQUENCES OF SQUINTING
When people squint, they often don’t realize they’re doing it. Whether they wear glasses, contacts or nothing at all, they may be doing it throughout the day. Most sources confirm that squinting may not harm your eyes, but it can have other consequences and it’s important to let your patients know what they are.
When a person squints, they are using a lot of facial muscles and if used too much, can lead to many unwanted issues such as headaches or migraines or lead to wrinkles. For patients with light-sensitive eyes, they will find themselves squinting a lot more often to adjust to heavy lighting or certain burst of lights in their daily lives. Remind them to always carry a pair of sunglasses or opt for transition lenses to let their eyes adjust to lighting properly.
WHEN TO BOOK AN EYE EXAM
Although people may not be too concerned with how often or how much they squint, remind your patients that if they feel overly tired at the end of the day or often get headaches or feel like they’ve been straining their eyes, they need to book an appointment for an eye exam.
For people who wear prescription lenses or contacts, it may be a sign that they need to update their prescription. Remind your patients that they should get a regular eye exam, at least once a year to stay up-to-date on their eye health. However, if you have patients who have taken an eye exam and have not found any issues with their vision or eye health, it may be as simple as breaking their habit of squinting.
Remind your patients that squinting can be more of an inconvenience to them rather than a big cause for concern. The most important thing for them to take away from this is that the health of their eyes is the most important thing they should consider.