Dr. Jillia Bird links prolonged electronic device use during the pandemic to an increase in styes 

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Optometrist, Dr. Jillia Bird, is reporting that her practice has been treating a number of patients for blocked eyelid oil glands, which can cause a stye to develop on the eye.  

A stye forms as a result of a bacterial infection involving one or more of the small glands near the base of the eyelashes and, according to Dr. Bird, not blinking enough can contribute to developing the condition.

She added that the increase in blocked eyelid oil glands may be indirectly related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the start of the pandemic, people have become more reliant on electronic devices to conduct business and to communicate with each other. Schools have also implemented online learning as a method of administering lessons to students.

Dr. Bird said that she does not anticipate an end to the new model of communication and doing business.

The optometrist said while  the novel coronavirus manifests itself in many different ways, she believes that the prevalence of styes is a side effect of the disease.

“One of my top diagnoses during this COVID-19 shutdown has to do with eyelid oil glands clogging up because we are staring at devices all day for Zoom meetings, Zoom classes, playing games because we can’t go out to meet friends, checking COVID-19 statistics. A month ago [we were] checking US election count numbers, you name it, and when you stare at a device for extended periods your blink rate drops – the rate at which you blink your eyelids – and people are clueless to how important blinking eyes really [is], and so the oil glands are getting clogged up,” Dr. Bird said.

To drive home how severe styes can become, she shared the story of an 18-year-old patient whom she treated recently who developed a blocked eyelid oil gland that turned into a hardened stye. This stye will have to be surgically removed.

Dr. Bird said she is seeing styes developing in patients as young as two-years-old.

The optometrist said people should develop the habit of taking short breaks while using their electronic devices and use the opportunity to blink their eyelids which is important for good eye health.

“Well we have a 20-20-20 rule. So we say every 20 minutes you have to take a 20 seconds break and look 20 feet away from your computer, but I am extending that to 20-20-30. Twenty seconds is not enough to rest the eye muscles and resume function of the tear cells. It’s too short. So COVID-19 has caused me to change my 20-20-20 rule. It was a cute tool because 20-20 is excellent vision, so doctors latched on to that, but 20 seconds is not enough to look away from your device.

“Everybody is in agreement with this. It started like way up in March when my US colleagues were writing into groups that we are a part of asking if people had seen a preponderance of styes, and all of us said that’s true, you know, and then when we sat down to think about it, it was in the heyday of the COVID onslaught – the first wave,” the optometrist said.

Dr. Bird said that the 5 am to noon curfew which was in place earlier this year resulted in more people being on electronic devices during a 24-hour period.