How Antiseptic Soap, Cell Phones Can Damage Your Eyes


Chinwe Dike, an optometrist based in Enugu, speaks with PREMIUM TIMES about how laptop and phone use can affect the eyes. She also talks about the prolonged impact of using antiseptic soaps, cooking firewood, and eyelashes.

PT: Can constantly staring at a phone or laptop screen cause eye problems?

DAM: No, it will not lead to blindness, except there are other underlying factors. However, we generally advise those who are always on their gadgets, their phones, to wear what we call goggles, they must have what we call anti-glare protection, anti-glare protection and what we call lenses with blue coating. These lenses help reduce the rays of light entering the eye. So if one is still on the phone, it’s either you’re turning down the brightness of your phone or you’re wearing lenses with reflections because it’s going to have this anti-reflective coating on them. And there will also be blue coated lenses which are for those still on their systems. Thus, these lenses will reduce the light rays that enter the eye because some of these rays are harmful to the eyes.

It (exposure to gadgets) will cause tension. This will cause what we call asthenopic symptoms that can lead to other eye problems, like refractive errors and all that. You might wake up with pain, red eyes, itching and a prolonged headache.

PT: How about having particles of soap, let’s say antiseptic soap, get into your eyes when you bathe?

DAM: This can lead to allergies. There is something called allergic conjunctivitis and bacteria can get through all of this as well. Thus, you expose your eyes to allergic conjunctivitis or bacterial conjunctivitis.

Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by an allergy, perhaps to soap that gets into the eye or exposure of the eyes to very harsh chemicals like Dettol and other antiseptics. So if you expose your eyes to all of these things, it’s going to cause inflammation, possibly redness of the eye, injections in the eye, and discharge from the eye, in case of bacteria. You have to deal with it. Failure to do so can lead to a more serious problem. It can disappear on its own, in case of allergy, but in case of bacteria, maybe there is a discharge, you have to check the eye, to know which medicine to use.

PT: How about rubbing your eyes after you wake up?

DAM: Well, the questions to ask yourself: Do the eyes sting? Is there anything the person has experienced before that has resulted in eye rubbing? Is there a dump? If there is discharge, there are bacteria and the person should check their eyes.

If it’s a habit, as long as you don’t use your fingernails to scratch your eyes, it’s fine. But if you use your fingernails to scratch your eyes and damage the cornea, that’s another risk.

PT: Is working in the hot sun without sunglasses a risk for the eyes?

DAM: By exposing the eyes to the sun, it causes a lot of damage to the eyes. First, we have what is called cataract. You can develop early cataracts. The person can develop what we call pterygium – you see growths on the conjunctiva and so many other things that it can lead to. So, anyone who works in the sun is advised to always wear what we call sunglasses, or for those who wear prescription glasses, you can wear what we call photochromic lenses with an anti-reflective coating.

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PT: We saw a lot of people cooking with firewood. Can it cause eye problems?

DAM: Yes. It is harmful to the eyes. As a general rule, everyone is advised to avoid using items that cause smoke, especially to the eyes, as this can cause allergies. It can induce pterygium and all that. There is a growth in the eyes known as a pterygium. Smoke and dust aggravate growth. So if someone is using (firewood) they should wear goggles.

PT: Let’s talk about eyelashes, contact lenses.

DAM: We recommend contact lenses in certain cases of very high refractive errors, but not for everyday use.

A lot of people are starting to overuse beauty products like eyelashes and all that. You go to the market, you see the techniques they use to do these things. They are very unhygienic and do not observe cleanliness routines that they should observe before going to see someone. And after these procedures, people suffer from allergies or worse situations.

I don’t know what chemicals they use for the lashes. We can advise you to protect your eyes. At best I can only tell the person not to fix (the eyelashes) or if you need to fix you can fix in a place where they will be very careful with your eyes and not put your eyes at risk. But it shouldn’t be regular.

PT: There’s this belief about onions – that when you cut them and your eyes get watery, it helps clear your eyes?

DAM: If the eye weeps, this does not mean that it clears up. People have this myth about it and you can’t change this myth because a lot of people believe it. To the best of my knowledge, there really is no eye benefit from the tears produced by the onion sensation so widely acclaimed by many. It is one of the traditional eye medicines that people use. I saw a patient who practiced one of these myths who came here with a melting cornea.

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