You probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about eye strain, but once it starts to affect you, it’s very difficult to ignore, and these days it has become far more common since so many of us have jobs that involve heavy computer use.
Eye strain happens when your eyes get tired from prolonged use. It doesn’t necessarily have to be from using computers. It also happens when you drive for long distances, for instance. Although it can be aggravating since it makes it harder to focus and get through a workday, fortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that eye strain damages your eyesight in the long run.
Unless the symptoms are caused by an underlying condition that requires treatment, they should go away once you’ve given your eyes enough time to rest and taken steps to reduce the discomfort.
The most common symptoms of eye strain are:
- Your eyes feel tired, sore, burning, or itching
- Dry or watery eyes
- Blurred vision
- Double vision
- Problems concentrating
- Higher than usual sensitivity to light
As we mentioned, these symptoms are usually caused by activities that involve prolonged and intense use of your eyes, such as driving long distances, working in front of a computer screen for several hours, and reading for long periods without taking breaks. They can be aggravated by other factors like inappropriate lighting (lights that are too bright or too dim and glare), circulating air from air conditioning or fans, and poor posture.
Eye strain associated with prolonged use of computer screens or other digital devices is referred to as computer vision syndrome (CVS) or Digital Eye Strain. Computer screens strain your eyes more than reading printed material because when you use them, you tend to blink less often, so you’re not lubricating your eyes properly. Some devices also have poor contrast between the text and background. Moreover, they have glare, and the contrast can change depending on the angle, which is why poor posture is considered an aggravating factor.
Now that you know what eye strain is and what causes it let’s look at what you can do to relieve the symptoms and protect your eyes.
Get a Comprehensive Eye Exam
The first thing you’ll want to do is to make an appointment to get a comprehensive eye exam so you can be sure your symptoms come from normal eye strain and not from an underlying condition like farsightedness (hyperopia) or astigmatism.
Your doctor will ask you when your last eye exam was, what your symptoms are, how long you’ve had them, how severe they are, if they’ve changed over time, and if you’ve found anything that relieves them. They’ll most likely also ask you about what triggers your symptoms and how much time you spend on digital devices per day.
To prepare for the appointment, you’ll want to write down your symptoms, relevant medical information such as other medical conditions and any medications you’re taking, including supplements, what kind of activities trigger your symptoms, and after how long.
You should get a comprehensive eye exam once per year. This is one of the most efficient measures you can take to protect your eyes. If the exam doesn’t uncover any underlying conditions, your doctor will give you some tips on what changes you need to make to relieve and prevent the symptoms and might recommend computer reading glasses that have an anti-reflective coating.
Adjust Your Workstation
Eyes strain is often caused by excessively bright lighting conditions. This could be because there’s too much light coming into the room from the windows, harsh interior lighting, or the computer screen is too bright. The computer screen should be only slightly brighter than the lighting around your workstation.
If you work from home, you’re in luck because you have more control over your working environment. If, on the other hand, you work in an office, you might want to discuss some changes with your supervisors.
First you’ll want to make sure the screen is positioned so that any windows are on the side and not in front or in the back. If the windows are right in front of you and it’s bright outside, it will strain your eyes, plus you’ll also be constantly readjusting between the brightness of the window and the brightness of the screen. Having windows behind you can cause glare because the light will reflect on the screen.
You can also reduce glare by getting a monitor built to minimize it or buy an anti-glare screen and install it on your existing one. The quality of your monitor is extremely important. You can find monitors designed for office use that have features that protect your eyes. For example, IPS LED screens with a high refresh rate will give you better viewing angles and minimize flicker.
If you read a lot of text documents on your computer, you’ll want to make sure the monitor offers good contrast. Generally speaking, monitors used for work should not be smaller than 19 inches. You’ll also find products that have sensors and can automatically adjust the brightness to the environment and emit less blue light.
Blue light has been shown to not only strain the eyes but also interfere with your sleep cycle. A study compared the sleep patterns of people who read a tablet and people who read a printed book before bedtime and found that those who used a tablet took longer to fall asleep and didn’t sleep as deeply. That seems to be because the blue light emitted by digital devices interferes with the production of melatonin, a hormone that signals to the body that it’s time to fall asleep.
Lastly, you’ll want to make sure you have good posture. The viewing angle is very important when working in front of a screen for several hours every day. First you’ll want to adjust your chair so that your feet can rest comfortably on the floor.
The screen should be adjusted so it’s and four or five inches (10-15 degrees) below your eyes since this will mean that your eyelids are covering part of your eyeballs and will keep them better moisturized. If your screen is slightly above eye level, you’ll notice that your eyes get dry much faster.
Also, you should sit too close to the screen. There should be a distance of about 25 inches or an arm’s length between the screen and your eyes.