Computer eye strain is a condition that affects between 50% and 90% of people who spend the majority of their time looking at computer screens. Office workers are often affected by it. Still, even children who need to access a computer or tablet for their school work are shown to be at risk of eye strain recently.
When looking at digital screens from an intermediate distance, the muscles that control the eye movement are always active and adjusting to the screen. As this activity stretches over a more extended period, with few or no breaks, the eyes can become dry or tired.
Although it causes discomfort, eye strain is not a permanent condition that threatens your eye health. This article will explain the symptoms you need to be aware of, followed by 10 tips to relieve computer eye strain.
Symptoms of Having an Eye Strain
There are a few determining symptoms that indicate computer eye strain. Although a variety of different factors can cause these symptoms, if you suffer from two or more of the following traits simultaneously and your job requires long hours in front of a screen, they are likely indicative of computer eye strain.
Most people blink a third less frequently when focusing on a screen over a longer time. Due to this, the tear film on the eyes can evaporate, leaving the ocular surface dry and feeling gritty.
Computer eye strain and reduced blinking can also cause chronic conditions such as Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD), which results in dry eye symptoms that persist after the end of your working day.
Tension headaches, also described as band headaches, can be caused by concentrating on a computer while sitting in the same position for hours. This type of headache usually starts from the back of the head or upper neck and moves upwards to wrap around the forehead and temples where the pain intensifies.
The wrong posture and work stress may also cause frontal lobe headaches in which mild to severe pain settles in the temples and forehead. Those who regularly experience migraines need to be aware that tension and frontal headaches can develop into a migraine, so try to take precautionary measures.
An intense focus on vision while reading or driving can cause the eyes to tire and feel fatigued. The results can worsen when the focus is set on a bright light source, such as a screen. These effects get exacerbated when the rest of the environment is dimly lit or cast in dark light, causing increased light sensitivity.
Eye fatigue can lead to blurred vision in either one or both eyes. The blurriness usually comes in waves, increasing towards the end of the day.
10 Tips for Computer Eye Strain Relief
If you have a refractive problem (e.g., short or long-sightedness or astigmatism) and have been prescribed to wear corrective glasses or contact lenses while working, it is essential to follow your optician’s advice and get regular eye exams. It ensures that your prescription is up to date and doesn’t cause any unnecessary, additional issues.
Having eye exams will also make sure that no underlying eye conditions go unnoticed, particularly when symptoms may be masked as traits of computer eye strain.
The next 10 tips are actions that you can take to relieve computer eye strain.
Using over the counter lubricating eye drops can help relieve dry eyes. But by making simple adjustments to keep your body and environment healthy and hydrated, you can lessen the chances of your eyes becoming gritty and sore.
2. Drink Water
Dehydration affects your whole body, including the eyes, and drinking a sufficient amount of water every day to keep your body and your eyes hydrated can let you avoid dry eyes.
On average, a person should drink eight glasses of water a day. However, healthy water intake always relies on your size and weight and whether you exercise every day. You can ask your physician about the recommended water intake for you to keep your body hydrated and eyes healthy.
3. Avoid Dry Air
In addition to hydrating your body, it matters to pay attention to the air quality in your work environment. (Read about choosing the correct light bulbs for eye health here: I Wish I Knew These Tips on Choosing the Right Light Bulbs for Eye Health Earlier)
Many offices use air conditioners, fans, and ventilators that can move dust around the air. It can disrupt the tear film leading to dryness and irritation.
Try moving the fans so that they are not directed at your face.
Where possible, make sure that your surrounding is free from dust. The moisture in the air can increase by using desk humidifiers.
4. Take Breaks
Scheduling time away from the computer screen does not only give your eyes but also your mind a chance to relax and unwind.
Studies show that those who work with computers experience less eye strain and discomfort when they take micro-breaks throughout the day. Getting up from the desk to move around and stretch your limbs for a few minutes can reduce back and neck pains that may occur after sitting at your desk for hours as well.
Every time we blink, we cover our eyes in a layer of tear-film, keeping them moisturized and feeling comfortable. Research reveals that when staring at a computer screen or reading for a prolonged period, people blink up to two thirds less frequently than usual, often only closing the lids partially instead of covering the eyes completely. It causes the tear film to evaporate and eyes to feel dry and uncomfortable.
If you become aware that you blink less, ideally, you can try to make a habit of blinking more often. However, as this adjustment isn’t always possible to achieve, you can try setting a reminder every 20 minutes, using this time to blink slowly or close your eyes completely. Do it for approximately ten times in a row and focus on a spot far away from your desk to relax your eye muscles.
6. Eat Snacks for Eye Health
Aside from a healthy lunch, you can make time for snack breaks, eating fruits and nuts high in vitamins A, C, and E to support the complexity of cells in your retina. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in walnuts and almonds and used in practice to help combat dry eyes. Of course, the intake of the proper vitamins could also be achieved through supplements.
7. Sleeping Schedule
During sleep, your eyes are refreshed with nutrients and tears, making a regulated sleeping schedule necessary for healthy and happy eyes. Sleep deprivation, however, can cause the blood vessels in our eyes to dilate, leading to irritation and eye fatigue during the day.
A set work schedule and the regulated sleeping cycle can help you to reset your eyes at the end of the day and ensure that you get appropriate rest overnight. To relax in the evening, try to avoid looking at screens, including TVs and smartphones, as the blue light from digital screens has been linked to promoting brain activity. Instead, try building a nighttime routine that includes tasks like cooking or tidying.
8. The Right Setup
Digital eye strain caused by computers can be induced by several factors, such as small images and fonts and flickering lights. You can try simple adjustments like increasing the pixel and font size on your computer or upgrading your desktop to a larger flat-panel LCD screen, ideally with a diagonal size of 19 inches.
Nevertheless, below are a couple of easy changes that you can make to achieve that. They don’t require buying new and expensive equipment.
9. Screen Position
The screen position and angle can alter your eyes’ focus when you look. As a result, it can increase eye strain if you place the monitor at an incorrect angle.
For an ideal work setup, try positioning your screen at about an arm’s length away from your face. That’s at least 20 inches apart but no further than 40 inches. If you can adjust its height, it should be centered 4 or 5 inches below eye level, so you don’t have to tilt your head too far up or down. The latter can also increase eye and neck strains.
10. Appropriate Lighting
It’s not only the lighting of your screen but also your work environment that can impact your eye health.
One factor is background light and the glare on your screen, considering reflections may make you squint, thus leading to tired eyes and frontal headaches. To avoid that, the screen should be facing away from windows or natural light sources. If this isn’t possible in your workplace, you can try using blinds or curtains to block direct light.
Additionally, the color temperature of most screens is set to a blue light, which has often been associated with eye strain. Blue light uses shorter wavelengths than red or orange light, which means it emits higher energy and causes the muscles of your eyes to strain. You can change these settings with most computers and smartphones by switching to night mode. Alternatively, you can opt for blue-light-blocking lenses on your glasses to relieve eye strain.
Computer eye strain can be uncomfortable and annoying. Still, luckily, you can get relief by following the simple tips above without needing to buy expensive equipment or take complex supplement regimes.
Should you feel like your eye strain persists even after trying everything, it might be time to set an appointment with your optometrist. They will be able to examine your eyes and check for underlying issues that prescription updating or eye drops may resolve.
More on Eye Health
At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.
Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.
One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.
When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.
So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.
Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day
This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.
Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.
When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.
Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity
One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.
Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.
An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.
When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.
Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day
Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.
We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.
By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.
Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment
While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.
I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.
You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.
Con #1: We Move a Lot Less
When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.
Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.
Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.
Con #2: Less Human Interaction
One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.
Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.
Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.
This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.
While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.
Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment
Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.
This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.
For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.
Con #4: Unique Distractions
Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.
For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.
To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.
Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.
We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.