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Tips to Help Prevent Eye Strain During Computer Use

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When viewing digital screens for extended periods, it’s not uncommon for employees to experience eye discomfort or vision problems. As employees work from home, they may increase their overall time looking at screens, both for work and recreation. Making adjustments to workstations and work habits can help reduce symptoms of eye strain.

What are Symptoms of Eye Strain?

Computer vision syndrome (CVS), also referred to as digital eye strain, describes a group of eye- and vision-related problems that can result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use. Sustained viewing of digital screens can increase the likelihood of computer vision syndrome  and related symptoms, such as eye fatigue, blurred vision, headaches, itching and tired eyes, and neck/shoulder pain. These problems can become more pronounced with age.

Many of these symptoms are temporary and can improve after stopping use of a digital device; however, if the causes of computer vision syndrome  are not properly addressed, ongoing screen use can lead to worsening symptoms.

Who is at Risk for Computer Vision Syndrome?

Computer vision syndrome can impact anyone, but certain factors can increase the risk. Some of the most common factors can include:

  • An uncorrected vision problem.
  • Two or more hours of continuous daily use of digital screens.

Computer Vision Syndrome and Eye Strain

How, when and where you work can impact vision discomfort. The time spent using mobile devices and computers away from work can also contribute to eye strain. Some of the more common causes of eye strain include one of more of the following: 

  • Using the wrong lenses for reading screens, causing the reader to lean into the screen at an uncomfortable angle.
  • Screen glare from lighting.
  • Workstation arrangement that results in awkward seated or standing postures.
  • Sustained digital viewing without adequate breaks.

While anyone can be at risk, there are steps that you can take at work and at home to help reduce the risk of eye strain. This often involves monitoring overall eye health, optimizing working and living spaces, and modifying screen viewing habits to include plenty of breaks from digital screen use.

Eye Health

It is important to regularly consult with an eye doctor to help maintain eye health. The American Optometric Association recommends that digital screen users have an annual comprehensive eye exam. During this exam, be sure to discuss with your doctor how much time you spend using screens and the distances involved. If corrective lenses are prescribed to you, inquire about the use of glasses designed specifically for computer work instead of standard bifocals or progressive lenses. Additionally, the use of lens tints and coatings may help reduce concerns related to lighting, such as glare.

Workstation Adjustments

Setting up your workspace with your eyes and posture in mind can help reduce a range of concerns, including eye strain. Remember that posture follows vision—the better you are able to see text, the better your overall posture will be.

  • Position your computer monitor(s) at arm’s length distance. Start with the monitor at arm’s length in front of you and adjust to your comfort. If you catch yourself squinting to read, move the monitors closer, increase the font size, or consider doing both.
  • Keep screen height at or slightly below eye level. The top of the monitor should be at or slightly below a forward gaze. For most, this results in placing the monitor screen directly on the tabletop. Tilt the top of the monitor slightly away to better align your gaze angle and help avoid neck discomfort. If wearing bifocals, the top of the monitor should be just below eye level.
  • Make screen adjustments as needed. Your eyes must work harder when the screen is significantly brighter than the surrounding environment or if the surrounding lighting is too bright.
    • Keep ambient light, such as light from overhead sources, windows and doors, low. Use a desk lamp to help provide a consistent lighting source for the workspace.
    • Adjust screen brightness and monitor contrast. If using multiple monitors, brightness and contrast levels should match.
    • Increase text size to help avoid straining to read small print.
    • Adjust window blinds to help reduce sun glare on the screen. Avoid positioning monitors directly in front of or behind windows with direct sun exposures.
    • Consider the use of a glare screen on the monitor to help further reduce glare.
  • Use a mobile device support. Provide a stand to hold the phone or tablet at a comfortable reading distance. Mobile devices, such as a smart phone, e-reader and tablets, have shortened viewing distances. They can increase visual discomfort as they are typically read at one foot or less, compared to reading printed text, which is generally read farther out. This close focus for digital reading requires increased use of eye muscles and can cause eye fatigue. Consider adjusting the brightness and text size of the device to help optimize comfort based on the reading environment.

Work Habits

Reading, whether on a page or on a screen, can be hard work, and because of this, it is important to give your eyes a rest.

  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, change your gaze by looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Looking into the distance helps your eyes to relax and gives them a break from prolonged near focus.
  • Take “bright breaks.” Changing viewing conditions from light to dark can help your eyes in feeling refreshed. One way to take a break from bright light at your desk is to gently cup your hands over your eyes to simulate a darker environment. After about 30 seconds, slowly remove your cupped hands.
  • Avoid dry eyes. Avoid continuously staring at digital screens, as staring slows down eye blink rates, which can lead to dry eyes. Try to blink frequently while using a digital screen. If dry eye discomfort persists, seek medical advice about the use of eye drops.
  • Walk away from your digital screen. Taking a brief walk, inside or outside, can help give your eyes a chance to refresh. Refocus near and far and, if possible, change the environment between light and dark.

Taking these steps can help protect your eyes from strain and fatigue.

Used with permission from Travelers Insurance