If you spend any length of time in front of a computer, you’ve probably experienced some form of eye strain, vision headaches or other stress in your visual system.
And you’re not alone. According to the American Optometric Association, upwards of 8 out of 10 computer users report some type of eye strain at the computer. The problem is so prevalent it’s been given a name: Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).
The symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome include:
- eyes hurting or over-tired
- eyes burning or itching
- dry, or watery, eyes
- double vision
- blurry eyesight (either at the computer or in the distance)
- the need for glasses for the first time
- the need for stronger prescriptions
- headaches, neck, shoulder and back tension
- increased sensitivity to light
Using a computer does place a unique set of demands on your eyes. But it’s not inevitable for your eyes to hurt at the computer, or for you to experience eye strain at the computer, once you know how to use your eyes correctly for the task, and what to do at the first sign of tension or fatigue.
Saving your eyesight at the computer can be as simple as being aware of your vision in a new way. Knowing visual ergonomics and the simple keys to healthy computing should go a long way to alleviating the symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome.
Here are five keys to taking care of your eyes at the computer.
1. Fit your set up to you: (fig. 1)
- Set up your computer so that you can look beyond the screen. If at all possible, don’t be in the corner, or face a wall.
- Sit directly in front of computer, not off to one side or the other.
- Sit 18-24 inches away from the screen
- Sit high enough so that your line of sight is level with or higher than the top of the screen
- Keep your wrists level with or below your elbows. Never bend your wrists up when typing
- Your knees should be below the level of your hips
- Place your feet on the floor. Use a footrest if your feet don’t reach the floor.
2. Look away from the screen regularly.
Focusing on an object far away, such as the water cooler down the hall or a tree outdoors, is a simple stretching exercise for eye muscles. Quickly shift your focus from near to far 3-4 times.
A brief look into the distance every 2 to 3 minutes prevents the build-up of visual stress and discomfort and keeps your eyes healthy and active.
These frequent micro-breaks offer much more relief to your eyes than an hourly break. A break every hour – however long it might be – does not provide all the relief and rest that your eyes need. Micro-breaks are more effective and beneficial.
Extended staring at a computer screen inevitably creates fatigue, tension and eye problems. Failing to take short vision breaks is one of the major factors leading to eye strain and eye problems for computer users.
Micro vision break tip: Look up and focus on the furthest object in the distance. Be aware of objects around you in your periphery. Take a deep breath. Relax as you exhale. Blink a couple of times. Shift your vision back to the screen and re-focus. (Three near-to-far shifts per break are recommended. This should take about 5 seconds.)
Mirror tip: If your computer is in a corner or if you work in a small space, place a small mirror on top of your monitor or on your desk. Use the mirror to give your eyes a distant view by looking through the mirror and focusing on objects that you see behind you.
3. Minimize glare on the screen.
You can detect a potential glare problem by turning on the lights in the room that you normally would use – before turning on your computer. If you see any images or reflections on the (turned-off) screen, you’ve got a glare problem.
To reduce or minimize glare, experiment by:
- Moving the screen to a better location, if possible
- Tilting the screen
- Moving objects that reflect onto the screen
- Covering windows to block sunlight
- Turning off or lowering offending lights
- Covering fluorescent lights with egg-crate baffles
- Turning your computer so the screen is perpendicular to overhead fluorescent lights.
It may be impossible to eliminate glare altogether, in which case you might consider using an anti-glare screen.
4. Use friendly lighting.
Bright fluorescent lights are a poor choice. Dimmer lights are better. Have a desk lamp for reading and doing other close work at your desk, but make sure it doesn’t reflect on the screen.
Most problems are caused by the quantity of the light (not by fluorescence itself). If possible, turn off every other fluorescent fixture and light your desk with a 100-watt bulb.
Standing lamps that direct light at the ceiling provide the best indirect light. If there is no dimmer available, a 3-way fixture is recommended so you can set the light at the most comfortable level.
You also need to light any original copy that you are working from. A desk lamp with an adjustable neck works well. Just make sure that this light doesn’t distract you or spill onto your screen.
Hard copy tip: Ideally, you want your copy on the same vertical plane as the screen. Working side to side is preferable to looking from the screen down to your copy and then back up again. Alternate moving the written material that you work from to the left and right of the screen during the day. The eye movements required to shift back and forth from left to right and from screen to copy help reduce visual stress and enhance your visual skills.
5. Blink more often.
Computer rooms are notoriously dry, and this may be one reason why your eyes hurt at the computer. Blinking is your body’s natural way of lubricating your eyes and preventing dry eyes. Normally the eye blinks 10-12 times a minute.
Most people do not blink regularly, especially when concentrating intently, or when under pressure. They keep their eyes wide open – fixed – and blinking decreases. Decreased blinking often causes redness, burning and itching of the eyes, particularly for those who use contact lenses.
Blinking lubricates and cleanses the eyes, keeping them moist for clear vision and comfort. Blinking also helps relax the facial muscles and forehead, countering the tendency to furrow one’s brow and create tension.
Hydrate by drinking enough water. If absolutely necessary, use a natural eye drop. Similasan or PrimaVu are the recommended brands.
Blinking tip: Move only your eyelids – not your forehead, face or cheeks – when you blink. Make sure you close your eyes all the way without effort and that both the upper and lower lids touch gently. Blink lightly once every 3 to 5 seconds. Or, take 10-20 blinks in this way just as your eyes start to feel dry, tired or itchy.
These five tips should be enough to keep you from feeling eye strain at the computer. It could be very simple to not let your eyes hurt at the computer.
But sometimes these tips are not enough. The causes of the blurred vision and visual stress might go deeper. Make sure you have your eyes checked at least once a year, and make sure that you are using the correct prescription for computer use – it’s not always the same as your regular prescription.
The book Total Health at the Computer goes into more depth about healthy computing tips, choosing the right kind of glasses for computer use and quick routines that will stop your eyes from hurting at the computer.
For more information, visit www.bettervision.com.