Protect Your Vision — How to Avoid Computer Eye Strain
There’s no way to avoid TV, phone, tablet and computer screens, so it’s worth taking some precautions.
We’re a nation in love with our digital screens, and the amount of time we spend in front of TVs, computers, phones and tablets continues to increase. Most adults spend more than 10 hours a day in front of a screen and most kids don’t spend enough time outside in the fresh air away from their screens. While we’ve opened up a whole new digital world of knowledge and opportunity, in some ways we’ve closed off the real world.
You may already know that a heavy screen-time habit isn’t good for your health. It usually involves lots of sitting, which can expand your waistline and increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. However, there’s a less obvious way that your TV, computers and other devices may be sabotaging your well-being: They strain your eyes and may cause symptoms that reduce your quality of life.
The good news is there are a few simple changes you can make to protect your eyes, even if you have job that requires you to stare at your computer screen for several hours a day.
The Problem Has a Name: Computer Vision Syndrome
If you use a screen for an extended amount of time, chances are you’ll wrestle with symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) at some point. In fact, according to the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CVS affects about 90 percent of people who spend three hours or more a day at a computer.
The symptoms can be unpleasant and painful, but typically are not long-lasting or permanent, especially if you make efforts to reduce the causes.
If you’ve experienced any of the following symptoms, CVS may be the culprit:
- Eye strain
- Dry eyes
- Blurred vision
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Eye twitching
As the statistics show, not everyone who uses a computer will experience these symptoms, but many will. The severity of your symptoms will vary according to other eye conditions you may already have, such as problems with focusing and coordinating your eyes.
CVS may also be a problem if you have uncorrected vision problems, such as farsightedness or astigmatism. Unfortunately, it also gets worse with age. And with more years of lifetime screen time, the issue is more serious for our kids.
Beware of Blue Light, Too
Overexposure to blue light can also be a problem for anyone who uses a screen for an extended period. Blue light is part of the visible light spectrum and is present all around us. By far, the biggest source of blue light is the sun—but your screen emits it too.
The potential problem with blue light is that your eyes aren’t great at filtering it out like they do with other forms of light, such as UV rays. Instead, blue light passes through the cornea and the lens and reaches all the way to the retina, a structure at the back of your eye.
Too much blue light can damage the retina and increase your risk for problems like macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in the United States. While there’s more research to be done on the connection between blue light from digital screens and these types of permanent eye damage, it’s always a good idea to reduce your risks if you can.
Follow the “20-20-20” Rule
One of the easy ways to reduce CVS is to follow the “20-20-20” rule. It’s easy to remember, and it’s a great way to give your eyes a much-needed break throughout the work day. After 20 minutes of screen time, look away from your computer at something 20 feet away. Make sure this break lasts for at least 20 seconds.
Adjust Your Lighting
Overhead fluorescent lighting contributes to eye strain and headaches. If you have the option, don’t use them in the office, and instead opt for a desk lamp. Florescent tube lights can also be switched out for full-spectrum lights that more closely resemble natural daylight, which is better for your eyes.
Check Your Screen Settings
The default brightness screen settings on your computer screen may not be optimal for you, so experiment with different settings to dim the screen light or warm the colors. Newer computers—as well as phones and tablets—may also have a nighttime setting—sometimes called Night Shift—to reduce harsh light and colors as the sun goes down.
Check your settings to make sure the text is a readable size—a text size you can easily read when your computer is at least an arm’s length away. Adjust the default text size, if needed, once you’ve adjusted the monitor’s distance.
Glare in the environment can also contribute to CVS and eye strain. If you sit near a window with natural light, be aware of extra glare that may be hitting your screen throughout the day. You may need to adjust your blinds or your shades to reduce glare on your screen.
Don’t Forget to Blink
Blinking helps keep your eyes hydrated and healthy. When you’re performing a complex mental task, you typically will blink fewer times per minute than you normally do. Over the course of a day using your computer, blinking less will lead to dry eyes and irritation.
Consider Eyewear and Computer Screen Adaptions
Finally, you may want to consider purchasing special eyewear to help reduce the strain on your eyes. There are affordable (under $50), protective lenses available without a prescription that are designed to cut down on screen glare and filter out blue light and which can reduce eye strain. And your prescription glasses can be adapted for computer use. There are also filters you can place directly over your screens and apps available to provide similar protection.
Make these simple changes now, and contact your doctor or ophthalmologist today if Computer Vision Syndrome is a problem for you.
John C. Witherell, M.D., is a board-certified ophthalmologist. Locally raised and educated, Dr. Witherell graduated magna cum laude from Jefferson Medical College and completed his residency at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. He sees patients in his offices in Glen Mills, Media and Upland.
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