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Dealing With Eyestrain


You have been sitting at your computer for hours. You have got your ergonomic workstation, so your arms and wrists do not hurt. You have got your ergonomic chair with built-in back support, so your back and shoulders do not hurt. And you have also accomplished all you set out to today. So you feel great. That is except for one thing...two actually. Your eyes are killing you—eyestrain.

Staring at the Screen

While many forms of work can lead to eyestrain, most work-related eyestrain today relates to extended hours in front of a computer monitor called computer vision syndrome (CVS).

Our eyes are designed to constantly shift their focus between objects that are near and objects that are far away. Eyestrain can result when the eyes focus on a single, close up object for extended periods of time, exactly what working at a computer terminal usually requires.

Related symptoms include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Soreness or pain in the eyeballs
  • Watering eyes
  • Dry or scratchy eyes
  • Eyelids that feel heavy
  • Fatigue
  • Neck or back pain
Eyeglasses May Help

How can eyestrain and its related symptoms be avoided? First, have a yearly eye exam to make sure there are no problems with your eyes. If you wear eyeglasses you might discuss with your optometrist or ophthalmologist whether contact lenses or computer glasses may be helpful for you. Computer glasses are specifically designed for working at a computer monitor.

If you wear bifocals, especially if you are over age 50, consider getting executive bifocals. These are bifocals with the top half of the lens focused specifically for the distance you sit from your computer monitor, and the bottom half of the lens focused for reading materials.

General Tips for Preventing Eyestrain

There are a number of steps you can take to help avert or lessen eyestrain:

  • Lighting—Make sure you have sufficient lighting at work. Avoid florescent lighting directly in your field of vision.
  • Lubrication—Blink your eyes frequently to keep them lubricated or try eye drops. You can use a lubricating artificial tear product without preservatives. If you select one with preservatives, avoid using more than four times a day.
  • Eye breaks—Give your eyes a break by following the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take your eyes away from the computer and look at something 20 feet (6 meters) away for 20 seconds. This will allow your eyes to refocus. You can also do other noncomputer-related work, like filing papers. Consider taking a walk outside or just close your eyes for a bit and relax.
  • Air quality—Dry eyes can be prevented by using a humidifier, avoiding smoke, and turning down the thermostat in your work area.
  • Massage—Massage your eyelids and the muscles over your brow, temple, and upper cheekbone. Do this once or twice a day.
  • Sun protection—If you work outdoors, wear sunglasses that provide complete UV-ray protection.
  • Rest—If the work you do involves driving a vehicle, pull over to rest your eyes at least once every two hours, more often if possible.
Relaxation Exercise

To help your muscles and eyes relax, try this exercise that you can do several times a day:

  1. Place your elbows on your desk.
  2. With your elbows still on your desk, turn your palms so they face upward.
  3. Allow your weight to fall forward. Let your head fall into your hands.
  4. Your eyebrows should rest on the base of your palms and your fingers should be fingers extended toward your forehead.
  5. Close your eyes.
  6. Take a deep breath through your nose. Hold for four seconds then exhale.
  7. Continue deep breathing for 15-30 seconds.
Proper Positioning

If you work in front of a computer screen or other VDTCVS, take the following additional steps:

  • Screen position—Position the computer screen at least 20 inches (51 centimeters) from your eyes, with the top of the computer screen at, or slightly below, eye level.
  • Materials—Place materials you will be looking at while you are working on the computer as close to the computer screen as possible. This minimizes head and eye movement and the need for your eyes to refocus.
  • Keyboard position—Place the computer keyboard directly in front of , and below, the computer screen.
  • Glare filter—Place a glare filter or antireflection screen (glass is better than mesh) over your computer screen.
Good Lighting

Take the following steps to maximize the lighting conditions on and around your computer screen:

  • Adjust the brightness and contrast levels on your computer monitor to make the picture clear and crisp. Make the focal points on the screen, such as text and/or diagrams, much darker than the background. Black type or diagrams on a white background are best.
  • If you experience a flickering sensation from your computer screen, try lowering the screen's brightness control. If that does not work, consider getting a screen with a higher refresh rate.
  • Place blinds or drapes on windows and keep overhead lighting low to minimize glare and reflected light.
  • Set up your workstation so that bright lights are not in your field of vision.
  • Avoid reflective surrounding surfaces, such as your desktop and the surrounding walls.
  • Keep the computer screen surface dust free.
  • When reading text on your computer screen, keep the text size at least three times the size of the smallest text you can read.

If you end the day feeling bleary-eyed, try incorporating some of these tactics into your workday. You may be surprised what a difference such minor adjustments can make.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Ophthalmology
http://www.aao.org

National Eye Institute
http://www.nei.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Family Physician
http://www.cfpc.ca

Canadian Ophthalmological Society
http://www.eyesite.ca

References:

Computers and your eyes. Prevent Blindness America website. Available at: http://www.preventblindness.org/computers-and-your-eyes. Accessed October 14, 2013.

Eye health tips. National Eye Institute website. Available at: http://www.nei.nih.gov/healthyeyes/eyehealthtips.asp. Accessed October 14, 2013.

Improving visual comfort at a computer workstation. CTD Resource Network, Inc. website. Available at: http://www.tifaq.org/articles/visual_comfort-jan99-jeffrey_anshel.html.

Rosenfield, M. Computer vision syndrome. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2011;31(5):502-515.

Tribley J, McClain S, et al. Tips for computer vision syndrome relief and prevention. Work. 2011;39(1):85-87.



Last reviewed October 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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