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How to reduce computer eye strain: 10 tips for relief

Woman rubbing eyes from prolonged computer usage

For most people, computer eye strain — eye discomfort, headache and vision problems from viewing digital screens for extended periods — is a fact of life.

Other symptoms of too much time spent staring at digital screens include eye twitching and red eyes.

The Vision Council has found that 59 percent of people who routinely use digital devices symptoms of computer eye strain (also called digital eye strain).

Thankfully, there is something you can do about it.

Here are 10 easy steps to make time in front of your digital screens more comfortable and reduce your risk of computer eye strain:

1. Get a comprehensive eye exam.

Having a routine comprehensive eye exam is the most important thing you can do to prevent or treat computer vision problems. If you haven't had an eye exam in over a year, consult an eye doctor near you.

During your exam, be sure to tell your doctor how often you use a computer at work and at home.

Also, measure how far your eyes are from your screen when you sit at your computer, and bring this measurement to your exam. Your eye doctor can then prescribe the best lenses for seeing clearly and comfortably at that distance.

2. Use proper lighting.

Digital eye strain can be caused by excessively bright light either from outdoor sunlight coming in through a window or from harsh interior lighting.

Reduce exterior light by closing window shades or blinds. Reduce interior lighting by using fewer light bulbs lower intensity bulbs and tubes. If possible, position your computer so windows are to your side, instead of being in front of or behind your screen.

If possible, avoid working under bright fluorescent lights. Instead use a floor or table lamp that provides softer, indirect lighting.

Generally, “soft white” LED light bulbs (color temperature: 2700 K) will be more comforting on your eyes than “daylight” or “cool white” bulbs with higher color temperature ratings.

3. Minimize glare.

Glare from light reflecting back from your screen or other surfaces in the room can contribute to computer eye strain. Install an anti-glare screen protector; and, if possible, paint bright or reflective walls a more soothing color with a matte finish.

If you wear glasses, purchase lenses with anti-reflective (AR) coating. AR coating reduces glare by minimizing the amount of light reflecting off the front and back surfaces of your eyeglass lenses.

4. Upgrade your display.

If you are working on an older computer, consider upgrading to a new device with the latest, high-resolution screen technology. Adjust the brightness of the screen to a comfortable level (about the same brightness as your surroundings).

Also, consider purchasing a device with a larger screen for easier viewing.

5. Adjust your computer display settings.

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 as your surroundings. 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.

  • Color temperature. If possible, use your display settings to reduce the color temperature of your screen. This will reduce the amount of blue light emitted by your screen for better long-term viewing comfort.

6. Blink more often.

Blink frequently (and fully) to remoisten the surface of your eyes and avoid dry eye symptoms.

Studies show that people blink only about one-third as often as they normally do when viewing the screens on their computers and other digital devices. This leads to dry eyes, fluctuating vision, and eye discomfort.

To reduce your risk of dry eyes during computer use, train yourself to blink after reading every two or three paragraphs on your screen. Also, keep a bottle of artificial tears handy and use it frequently if your eyes start feeling dry.

7. Exercise your eyes.

Another cause of computer eye strain is focusing fatigue. To reduce eye fatigue from focusing constantly on your screen, start using the “20-20-20” rule: Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen and fix your eyes on something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This will help relax the focusing muscle inside your eyes and reduce eye fatigue.

Also, use the 20-20-20 rule to remind yourself to blink frequently (and apply eye drops if needed).

8. Take frequent breaks.

To reduce your risk of headaches and neck, back and shoulder pain associated with computer use, get up and away from your screen at least every 30 minutes. Move about and stretch your arms, legs, back, neck and shoulders to reduce tension and muscle fatigue.

Just a few minutes of this activity every 30 minutes can improve your posture and make you feel less fatigued.

9. Modify your workstation.

If you need to look back and forth between a printed page and your computer screen, place the page(s) on a copy stand adjacent to the monitor.

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.

Also, adjust your chair so your feet can rest comfortably on the floor.

10. Consider computer glasses.

Consult your eye doctor to see if you could benefit from computer glasses.

Computer glasses can be especially helpful if normally you wear bifocals or progressive lenses, which provide only a relatively limited viewing zone to see your computer screen.

Also, consider photochromic lenses or lightly tinted lenses for computer work to reduce your exposure to potentially harmful blue light emitted by digital devices. Discuss this risk with your eye doctor.

Finally, if you spend long hours in front of a screen, wearing computer glasses or other eyeglasses can be much more comfortable than wearing contact lenses, which can sometimes dry out from sustained computer work. Consider wearing glasses during screen time, and your contacts the rest of the day.

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