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Fatigue and stress have long been common woes at the end of a workday. Now, in the digital age, there’s a new set of struggles: headaches, dry eyes and double vision. These are the unique symptoms of the 21st-century workplace, one in which many of us stare at computer screens all day long.
As remote work has expanded in recent years, so has the amount of time we spend on screens for our jobs. According to a survey by All About Vision, remote workers spend almost 13 hours a day looking at screens, compared with just under 11 hours for on-site employees.
As this work-related screen time has increased, eye health has become a particular concern. Nearly half of those surveyed reported that their eyesight had worsened in the past two years. Are screens to blame? And, if so, is there anything we can do about it? Read on to learn more about taking care of your eyes when you use your computer.
Common eye conditions associated with prolonged computer use
As computer use has increased over the past few decades, doctors and researchers have studied the effects on our eyes. Three conditions, in particular, have become associated with prolonged time in front of a computer screen.
Computer vision syndrome
Computer vision syndrome, also known as digital eye strain, is a well-documented issue with a range of symptoms. If you sit at a computer all day, you may experience blurred vision and difficulty shifting your focus between near and far objects. Headaches behind the eyes are also common, and you may experience other physical symptoms such as neck and shoulder pain.
These symptoms can, of course, come from other types of work, but they’re particularly noticeable among computer-based workers.
Eye strain is one of the most prevalent symptoms of computer vision syndrome. In addition to the blurred vision and headaches noted above, eye strain symptoms include double vision, eye soreness, and general fatigue or difficulty concentrating or focusing your vision. Many with eye strain experience increased sensitivity to light, as well.
Dry eye syndrome
Dry eyes are another prominent symptom of computer vision syndrome. Studies have shown that you blink less often while staring at a computer, and this limits tear distribution, drying out your eyes. Your eyes may feel itchy, scratchy, and irritated, and you may even have a gritty sensation and redness around your eyeballs.
How to take care of your eye health while working on a computer
Although these conditions are common among computer users, that doesn’t mean they’re inevitable. Here are seven things you can do to reduce eye strain and protect your vision and eye health when you work on a computer.
Have regular check-ups with your eye doctor
If you have good vision, you may not think it’s necessary to see an eye doctor regularly. However, regular eye exams can help you stay ahead of any problems that develop from working in front of a computer. Your eye doctor can also run routine tests for other eye health problems, such as glaucoma or cataracts, as well as vision-related symptoms of diabetes and high blood pressure.
Make your workspace as ergonomic as possible
You may not notice them initially, but your workspace ergonomics can affect your eyes when you sit in front of a computer all day. First and foremost, your computer screen should be 20 to 28 inches from your eyes, with the center of the screen 4 to 5 inches below eye level. If you routinely look at documents while working at the computer, set them on a stand next to the screen so you don’t have to change focal distance constantly.
It’s also important to consider lighting and screen glare, as these can cause significant eye strain. Make sure your room is well lit and your screen is no brighter than the surrounding environment. Tilt the screen away from overhead lights and use blinds, shades or curtains to reduce glare from windows or backlight from the sun.
Practice eye exercises
Your eyes are controlled by six different muscles, and like any muscle, they sometimes need a little help relaxing and reducing tension. There are quite a few exercises you can do to help this process and ease eye strain. For instance, try:
- Rolling your eyes: This isn’t just useful for bad jokes or irritating coworkers. Rolling your eyes back and forth for about a minute can stretch the eye muscles and reduce eye strain.
- Flexing your eyes: Similar to rolling, this involves rapid movements up and down, then left and right. Do each motion 10 times. For both this and eye rolling, be sure you’re relaxed and looking straight ahead.
- Palming: For 2 minutes, gently cup your palms and place them over your eyes. Make sure you can open and close your eyes freely. Staring and blinking into the darkness can help your vision reset.
- Blink slowly: Looking straight ahead, close your eyes for half a second, then reopen them. Repeat this 20 times in a row to refresh your eyes and reduce dryness.
Follow the 20-20-20 rule
This is another eye exercise, and it’s particularly helpful for reducing eye strain symptoms because it gives your eyes practice shifting focus between different distances. The rule itself is simple and easy to remember: For every 20 minutes you look at a computer screen, stop and look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. You may need to set a repeating timer for this until you get in the habit.
Use blue light blocking glasses
Blue light blocking glasses are a good investment for reducing eye strain, but not in the way many once thought. It turns out that these glasses do little to deal with symptoms of computer vision syndrome directly. However, reducing blue light at night can help to minimize disruptions to your sleep cycles, thus helping you get good rest (which we’ll explore more below). So, while blue light glasses may not help at work, they can be a good choice in the evening.
You can also change the settings on your phone, tablet or other home devices to reduce the blue light on your screen at night.
Consume foods that support eye health
While some of these habits may produce immediate results, it’s also important to remember to invest in the long-term health of your eyes. That starts with eating foods that support eye health — ones that are rich in beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamins A, C and E. These nutrients for eye care can help support cell growth, limit damaging free radicals and reduce inflammation in the tissue of the eyes.
Some of the best food sources of these include:
- Omega-3s: Flaxseed and flaxseed oil, fish and walnuts
- Zinc: Chickpeas, oysters, red meat and yogurt
- Vitamin A and beta-carotene: Apricots, raw cantaloupe, carrots, mangos, raw red peppers, ricotta cheese, spinach and sweet potatoes
- Vitamin C: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, raw red peppers and strawberries
- Vitamin E: Almonds, broccoli, peanut butter, spinach, sunflower seeds and wheat germ
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, corn, eggs, kale, nectarines, oranges, papayas, romaine lettuce, spinach and squash
Get a good night’s sleep
Getting good rest is important for various aspects of your health, including your eyes. Sleep deprivation can exacerbate many of the symptoms of computer vision syndrome, including blurred vision and light sensitivity. Poor or insufficient rest doesn’t give your eyes time to heal, so you may wake up with red, itchy eyes from yesterday’s work. Plus, lack of sleep has been linked with an increased risk of glaucoma in the long run.
Tips to sleep better for eye health
Achieving restful sleep may feel easier said than done. Try these tips to fall asleep faster and improve your quality of rest:
- Don’t look at your phone or watch TV right before bed.
- Keep your room cool and comfortable.
- Exercise regularly.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine.