Many of us spend dozens of hours each week staring at a computer screen whether at work or at home. It is therefore not surprising that eye strain is increasingly becoming a common workplace-related complaint. Some studies have shown that eye strain and other visual problems occur among anywhere between 50 and 90 percent of regular computer users.
The extent of eye problems can range from minor annoyances such as red eyes and eye twitching, to more severe consequences such as increased errors, heightened fatigue and decreased productivity. The following tips can help you reduce or eliminate computer-induced eye strain.
1. Go for a Comprehensive Eye Exam
You cannot resolve a problem before you have established its existence and severity. Before doing anything else, make time to go for a detailed eye exam then plan to do it at least once a year subsequently.
Some of the things you’ll need to tell the eye doctor include how frequently you use the computer whether at work or at home. Evaluate your seating position and determine approximately how far your face usually is from the computer screen. The doctor will then test your eyes at that same distant to see how this impacts your vision.
2. Minimize Glare
Glare on finished surfaces and glossy walls can cause eye strain. Install an anti-glare screen on your monitor and, where possible, get rid of brightly colored walls by painting them in a darker matte hue.
If you wear eyeglasses, get lenses that have anti-reflective coating. The coating minimizes glare by reducing the amount of light that reflects off the back and front surfaces of your lenses. If you usually wear contact lenses, you may want to speak to your eye care doctor to customize your glasses for prolonged computer use.
You can also benefit from lightly tinted photochromic lenses that will protect your eyes from exposure to the harmful blue light emitted by computers and other digital devices.
3. Change Your Monitor
In case you have the now old-fashioned tube-style screen (officially known as a CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor), replace it with a flat liquid crystal display (LCD). LCD screens are not only easier on the eyes but also have an anti-reflective surface.
CRT screens cause images to flicker. Even though the flicker isn’t always perceptible, it is a key cause of eye strain. Eye problems are particularly likely if the monitor’s refresh rate is under 75 Hz. If you must use a CRT monitor, adjust settings to the highest refresh rate.
For LCD screens, it’s especially important that you know what to look for in a gaming monitor. The higher the resolution the better. Pay attention to the LCD screen’s dot pitch. The lower the dot pitch, the sharper the image. You won’t have flicker problems with an LCD screen since the backlight operates at 200 Hz.
Finally, size matters. The larger your display, the better the quality of the view (since you can work from a distance) and the lower the likelihood of strain.
4. Reorganize Your Workstation
If you find yourself having to glance back and forth between your computer screen and a printed or handwritten page, the constant readjustment of your eye focus can cause visual strain over time. Instead position the paper on a stand adjacent to your screen.
In addition, make sure your chair is at the correct height relative to the workstation. Improper posture is a risk factor for computer vision syndrome. Buy ergonomic furniture that will make it easier to place the computer screen about two feet from your eyes. The midpoint of the screen should be 10 to 15 degrees below your direct line of vision in order to ensure neck and shoulder muscle comfort.
5. Use the Right Lighting
Eye problems are often the result of overly bright light from direct outdoor sunlight or sharply bright interior lighting. When using a computer, your ambient light should be dimmer (recommended half as bright) than your typical office lighting.
Get rid of direct natural light by closing blinds, shades or drapes. Position your computer monitor such that the windows are neither behind nor in front of it but to the side. Similarly, you’ll have a better visual experience if you avoid working directly under fluorescent lights. Where possible, switch off overhead fluorescent lights and use indirect lighting such as floor lamps.
6. Look Away
Focus fatigue causes eye strain. To minimize the risks that come with staring at your computer screen for extended periods, look away from the monitor every 15 minutes while gazing at a far off object for 20 seconds or more. This relaxes the focus muscle and reduces the chances of the muscle locking up due to prolonged unadjusted focus (referred to as accommodative spasm).
If you are working in an open-plan office where there are colleagues all around you, the need to look away from the screen is unlikely to be something you’ll think about. You’ll most probably be engaged in conversation with a colleague every couple of minutes or be distracted by someone walking past.
You are at greater risk of staring at the monitor for hours if you are confined to your own office or when gaming on your home computer.
7. Walk Away
Looking away will certainly help but for even better results, you should take regular timed breaks from your work or home computer. This not only reduces your chances of succumbing to computer vision syndrome but also wards off shoulder, back and neck pain. Stand up and stretch your arms, shoulders, back, neck and legs as you move about. This eliminates muscle fatigue and reduces tension.
If you are gaming, taking a 15-minute break after every hour or two is feasible. At work, such freedom and flexibility won’t always be possible due to work practicalities and productivity targets. But there’s a middle ground.
As opposed to settling for the two 15-minute breaks the average office worker takes each day, you could take an additional four 5-minute micro-breaks over the course of the day. It doesn’t have to be a lazing, idling break. The 5-minute interval could be a water cooler break or a bathroom break.
And in case your boss isn’t bought into the idea yet, it’ll probably help if they know that research has shown productivity actually increases after the extra breaks. That means overall output doesn’t diminish at the end of the day.
Computers are a fact of life that’s unlikely to go away anytime soon. Preventing eye strain from computer monitors is all about changing your habits, changing your furniture and changing your equipment.