In today’s fast paced society we depend more and more on our eyes. Vision impacts every aspect of our lives. That’s why it’s so important to do everything possible to protect our eyesight. In this digital age, and with the increased demand on our vision for technology usage through the pandemic, eye care is imperative.
Eyestrain is a common condition that occurs when your eyes get tired from intense use, such as driving long distances or staring at computer screens and other digital devices. These days, the unique situation the pandemic has presented has most of us staring at screens for hours more than normal.
Eyestrain can be annoying, but usually isn’t serious and goes away once you rest your eyes or take other steps to reduce eye discomfort. In some cases, signs and symptoms of eyestrain can indicate an underlying eye condition that needs treatment. If it persists see your eye care provider.
Symptoms of eyestrain
A few tell-tale symptoms of eye strain include:
• Sore, tired, burning or itching eyes
• Watery or dry eyes
• Blurred or double vision
• Sore neck, shoulders or back
• Increased sensitivity to light
• Difficulty concentrating
• Feeling that you cannot keep your eyes open
• Difficulty in focusing
• After-images when looking away from a screen
Extended use of computers and other digital devices is one of the most common causes of eyestrain. The American Optometric Association calls this computer vision syndrome, or digital eyestrain. People who look at screens two or more hours in a row every day have the greatest risk of this condition. That pretty much means most of us are at risk of developing some form of the syndrome these days. Stay aware of the symptoms you may experience and contact your eye care provider if you notice any occurring regularly.
How to provide your eyes some relief
There are many ways to ease eye strain:
1) Start by blinking often and closing your eyes frequently. Look away from your computer at least every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object (at least 20 feet away) for at least 20 seconds. Some eye doctors call this the “20-20-20 rule.” Looking far away relaxes the focusing muscle inside the eye to reduce fatigue. Another exercise is to look far away at an object for 10-15 seconds, then gaze at something up close for 10-15 seconds. Then look back at the distant object. Do this 10 times.
2) Keep your screen free of dust and finger prints to minimize visual interference.
3) Create an eye-friendly environment around your computer screen by placing the documents you’re working on at the same level as the screen, instead of on the table, to avoid having to re-focus your vision.
4) Eliminate reflections/ glare on your computer screen. There is nothing more irritating than dealing with issues of overhead, direct, or indirect lighting.
5) Modify your work station. Improper posture while doing during computer work also contributes to computer vision strain. Adjust your workstation and chair to the correct height. Purchase ergonomic furniture to enable you to position your computer screen 20 to 24 inches from your eyes. The center of your screen should be about 10 to 15 degrees below your eyes for comfortable positioning of your head and neck.
6) Water is essential to maintaining well hydrated eyes. Drinking plenty of water can prevent dehydration, which may reduce the symptoms of dry, irritated eyes.
7) Inadequate sleep may contribute to eye fatigue. Symptoms of eye fatigue include eye irritation, difficulty focusing, dryness or excessive tears, blurred or double vision, light sensitivity, or pain in the neck, shoulders, or back. We’ve talked about the importance of getting 7-9 hours of sleep nightly to reduce pain and weight gain, but it also helps to prevent eye fatigue.
8) Wear your glasses. This sounds obvious, but many people with low to moderate vision loss leave them at home or tucked in a pocket or purse because of vanity or forgetfulness. Make sure the vision correction is up to date for close and far work. All too often, we’re still using glasses we outgrew years ago which exacerbates eye strain symptoms.
9) To reduce your risk for computer vision syndrome and neck, back, and shoulder pain, take frequent breaks during your computer work day. Many workers take only two, 15-minute breaks from their computer throughout their work day. According to a recent NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety) study, discomfort and eye strain were significantly reduced when computer workers took four additional five-minute “mini-breaks” throughout their work day.
These supplementary breaks did not reduce the workers’ productivity. Data entry speed was significantly faster as a result of the extra breaks, so work output was maintained even though the workers had 20 extra minutes of break time each day. During your computer breaks, stand up, move about and stretch your arms, legs, back, neck and shoulders to reduce tension and muscle fatigue. This also helps you avoid sitting too much.
10) Upgrade your display. If you have not already done so, replace your old tube-style monitor (called a cathode ray tube or CRT) with a flat-panel, liquid crystal display (LCD), like those on laptop computers. LCD screens are easier on the eyes and usually have an anti-reflective surface. Old-fashioned CRT screens can cause a noticeable “flicker” of images, which is a major cause of computer eye strain. Even if this flicker is imperceptible, it still can contribute to eye strain and fatigue during computer work.
11) Adjusting the display settings of your computer can help reduce eye strain and fatigue. Generally, these adjustments are beneficial:
• Brightness: Adjust the brightness of the display so it’s approximately the same as the brightness of your surrounding workstation. As a test, look at the white background of this web page. If it looks like a light source, it’s too bright. If it seems dull and gray, it may be too dark.
• Text size and contrast: Adjust the text size and contrast for comfort, especially when reading or composing long documents. Usually, black print on a white background is the best combination for comfort. Select a font size easy to read that’s at least 12 points, or greater.
• Color temperature: This is a technical term used to describe the spectrum of visible light emitted by a color display. Blue light is short-wavelength visible light that is associated with more eye strain than longer wavelength hues, such as orange and red. Reducing the color temperature of your display lowers the amount of blue light emitted by a color display, for better long-term viewing comfort. You can also purchase glasses that reduce how much blue light reaches your eyes and reduce glare as well. If you’re using a device for several hours a day, glasses such as these are worth the investment to protect your eyes.
With no clear end to our new normal and increased usage of technology because of the pandemic, make your eyes a priority and protect their health. Even if your technology usage hasn’t increased, our eyes are essential to our ability to appreciate almost every moment of the day from seeing the world around us, learning, interacting with others, and more- don’t overlook (pun intended!) their impact on your daily life.