After a long day of work staring at a computer, you might be feeling a little worse for wear. Your back and shoulders might be tense, you might be exhausted, and your stress might be through the roof. When you turn off your monitor and head outside to go home, you might discover another ailment: your eyes are dry, blurry and tired.
These symptoms are caused by a problem called eye strain. In our increasingly digital world, eye strain is, unfortunately, also increasingly common.
Eye strain and its effects
Eye strain is a temporary condition in which the eyes get overexerted by focusing too hard.
When you stare at a computer or focus on something for a long time, you tend to blink less often than you normally would, which can dry out your eyes. The “digital noise” emitted from a computer also makes it difficult for your eyes to focus, making them work harder to distinguish letters and numbers. Blue light emitted from these devices may also cause eye strain.
Although it is commonly related to staring at screens from computers, tablets and phones, eye strain can also occur after long periods of reading, writing and driving.
The condition can lead to a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including headaches, double vision, blurry vision and dry, itchy or burning eyes. Often, people who experience eye strain will also experience pain in the neck, shoulders or upper back. Although these symptoms can be frustrating to deal with, they are usually not serious and will go away on their own in time.
Unfortunately, these symptoms can also have a larger impact on your day, reducing your productivity and causing minor pain or discomfort.
Preventing and treating eye strain
There are many steps you can take to minimize the impact of eye strain. Many of these tips require simple lifestyle changes you can make day-to-day.
- Back up: Often, people who develop digital eye strain sit too close to the screen. For optimal viewing, you should position your monitor around 24 inches away from your face and around eye level. Keeping things at eye level is crucial to prevent you from hunching over and moving your eyes in an unnatural way.
- Adjust the settings: When working on a digital device, adjust the settings to make text larger and contrast greater. Both of these adjustments make it much easier for your eyes to read text so they don’t struggle to focus on tiny letters.
- Take breaks: No matter whether you’re looking at a screen, a book, a journal or a phone, take frequent breaks where you stand up, walk around and look at something other than what you’re focusing on. Letting your eyes refocus can help alleviate strain. If you’re driving, make sure you’re stopping regularly to stretch your legs and look at something different from the road, or even take a short nap if necessary.
- Use the 20-20-20 rule: The 20-20-20 rule means, every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Following this rule can help ensure that you take vision breaks multiple times per hour and give your eyes the opportunity to refocus and rest while looking at something farther away.
- Artificial tears: Artificial tears and eye drops can help replenish the moisture in your eyes as you work and alleviate dry or itchy eye feelings should they occur. Some eye drops are specially formulated to alleviate dryness caused by different things and are suitable for contact lens wearers.
- Use adequate lighting: You want to make sure you’re working in a room with adequate lighting so your eyes do not struggle to focus. If you’re working on a screen, make sure the light in the room is brighter than the screen for reduced strain.
- Blue light lenses: Specially formulated blue light glasses can help minimize the effects of potentially harmful blue light on your eyes while you work on a computer, tablet or phone. They may be a good idea if you work on a computer regularly for work.
If your eye strain doesn’t go away within a few hours of stopping the activity that caused the strain, visit an eye doctor to have an exam. There may be something more severe going on with your eyes that will require professional help.
By paying a little more attention to blinking and taking breaks from working, you can effectively prevent eye strain entirely and minimize uncomfortable signs.