Do you ever get that tired, strained feeling in your eyes after a day at work? Too many hours sitting in front of a computer screen can lead to computer vision syndrome (CVS), which affects between 64% and 90% of office workers. The most common symptoms of CVS include eye strain, redness, irritation or dryness, a burning feeling in the eyes, blurred or double vision after computer use, headaches and neck and shoulder pain. After a while, this can lead to permanent eye damage, eye twitches, headaches, migraines, and reduced vision. Just four hours of screen time a day can be enough to have a major effect.
The usual way to deal with eye strain is simply to rest your eyes. Stop staring at screens, and just relax. But if you’re working in an office, that’s often not an option. You may have to spend eight hours a day at a computer, five days a week – and then you go home and watch TV or jump online to chat with friends. Many people spend twelve hours a day or more looking at a screen. That’s why it’s essential to ensure you’re doing all you can to minimize the strain on your eyes.
Most of what you need to do is both simple and obvious.
- Putting your screen slightly below eye level helps.
- Adjusting your screen settings will make a huge difference: make the text larger and fiddle with the brightness. Here’s a simple test: look at a Web page with a white background (like this one). If it seems brighter than the surrounding area, turn the brightness down. If it seems dark and gray, turn the brightness up.
- LCD screens are much less stressful on the eyes than older CRT monitors.
- Tiny phone screens require your eyes to work much harder than laptops or desktops.
One neat trick is to remember the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a break for 20 seconds and look at objects that are 20 feet away from you. That keeps your eye muscles exercised, reminds you to change your focus, and keeps your eyes lubricated. See, staring out of the window is actually good for you!
If you can avoid it, don’t look at a screen when you’re tired. Late night television’s not good for you (just like your parents used to tell you), and late night gaming or computer use is worse, because the screen is closer and it’s visually more intensive. Read a book (not an e-book!) or listen to music instead.
Most importantly, make sure the lighting is good. Time recommends this simple “visor” test: look at the monitor and cup your hands over your eyes like a baseball cap. If your eyes immediately feel better, then the lighting needs to be changed.
Many people can’t work under fluorescent lights, so consider changing to something easier to work with. In some cases switching to “full spectrum” fluorescent lighting (i.e. lighting that approximates the light spectrum emitted by sunlight) can be better than regular fluorescent tubes.
Find out what works best in terms of natural and electric light. Some people advocate cutting out all exterior light, but that doesn’t work for everybody. Some natural light is good, but bright sunlight creates glare, which isn’t. One effective trick is to put tinting on the windows so that there is plenty of light, but it’s not harsh. Position your screen so that the sun’s not in your eyes or on your screen.
I’m speaking from personal experience here. Some years ago, I started suffering from frequent headaches, blurred vision, and even occasional loss of vision. It happened at first while I was working, and I ignored it. I’d just take ibuprofen for the pain and carry on. Then one day when I was driving home after a twelve hour day in the office, my vision went again without any warning – a truly terrifying experience that could easily have resulted in tragedy.
The next day I saw an optician, who immediately diagnosed me with eye strain and very mild short sight. It wasn’t a serious condition, but left untreated, my eyes could have degenerated quickly. Apart from the danger of literally driving blind, if I’d lost my sight, I would have been unable to work.
Within the next 24 hours, I made seven important changes:
- I got spectacles and now wear them whenever I’m using a computer, even for just a few minutes.
- I got a larger monitor so it’s easier to see what I’m looking it.
- I changed the colors on my Windows theme to something a little more muted (ivory instead of white, for example).
- I moved my office around so that I have better natural lighting on my desk.
- I changed the lighting so that I work in better conditions. (I used to love watching TV and playing games in darkened rooms, but I can’t do that any more.)
- I changed my working hours so I don’t have to work as often when I’m tired.
- I take a short break every few hours and get away from the screen to rest my eyes. (And walk around, stretch my legs, and flex my fingers.)
Since then, I’ve had very few problems. I still get occasional migraines, but they’re almost always due to working when I’m fatigued, and I’ve never had a recurrence of the vision loss.
As we’ve said several times already this month, the key is to create an ergonomic and comfortable working environment. If you’re going to be working at a computer for long hours, your vision is a health and safety issue. Take frequent breaks, and make sure that your workstation is designed with lighting in mind.