How To

On Being a Book Lover with Dry Eyes

Christine Ro

Staff Writer

Christine writes about books for Literary Hub, VICE, and the Ploughshares blog. She occasionally writes about other topics, because someone once told her (although it seemed implausible) that there’s life outside of books. Blog:

I was recently diagnosed with blepharitis, or inflammation around the eyelids. I’ve had terribly dry eyes for a while, and am now on a regimen of eyelid cleaning, eye mask wearing, and eye drop gushing in order to bring back some much-needed moisture. I’ve also had to change the way I read.

My issues are incredibly minor compared to people with vision impairment. But these issues are also pesky and common. Here are a few (entirely non-medical and possibly obvious) suggestions for other dry eye sufferers who spend a good chunk of time reading:

eyes feature

1) Embrace audiobooks.

This should be obvious, but I’ve never been a big audiobook listener, partly because I like being able to make note of significant quotes as I read. But I’ve replaced part of my podcast listening with audiobook listening. (I used one of those Audible discount codes that’s a ubiquitous fixture of podcast advertising, although is a more ethical option.) It’s had some unexpected benefits. I read too quickly, for one thing, and being forced to slow down to the speed of the narration keeps me from missing things, which I do all too often when reading text. And of course it gives my poor eyes a break from focusing on a page.

2) Be judicious about reading on a phone.

I stubbornly resisted getting a new phone even though my old one had such a warped display that I couldn’t make out the text at the edges. This was even with a convoluted combination of background color, text color, font size, line spacing, and display brightness. It helped to finally replace my phone, but a bigger change was cutting down on my digital reads. Sure, I love the convenience and reduced paper usage of being able to access hundreds of books on my phone or computer. But spending so much time staring at a screen was doing a number on my eyes. I’m back to print books as much as possible.

3) Cut down on mindless screen time.

I really notice the difference when I spend a few days away from computers and phones. It’s hard to avoid these devices as my work is so reliant on them, but screen time is the biggest culprit in my persistent eye strain. (#2 is probably some combination of aging and genetics.) I’m forcing myself to blink more and take more breaks, but I’m also trying to institute broader lifestyle changes. Scrolling endlessly down my blog reader, for instance, or clicking on articles I’m only half-interested in, is an almost compulsive behavior and one that tires my eyes after a while. If I want to save my eye-focus time for the kind of reading that I’ll actually remember, I need to prioritize book reading over pass-the-time-online reading.

4) Fall back in love with comics.

I devour comics far too quickly, as I’m so textually focused. But these vision issues have given me another reason to linger over visuals. This makes me appreciate the art more than I would if I were racing through dialogue, of course, but it also relieves some of the squinting that contributes to my eye strain.

If anyone has other tips for dealing with chronically dry eyes as a book obsessive, I’m all, er, ears!