If you’re like me, then you spend hours upon hours working on your computer. If you’re not on your computer, then there is a good chance that you are on your phone. Between answering emails, trolling Facebook and Instagram, playing games and reading the news, the average American spends around 11 hours a day looking at a phone or computer screen. That means we spend more time on our devices than we do sleeping! Yep, that’s a lot of hours. The problem with excessive phone and computer time is that is causes what is called computer vision syndrome. This is something that I was suffering from, and the worst part is that I didn’t even know it. All I could tell is that my vision was blurry from time to time, and I was getting quite exhausted despite ample sleep. It took a trip to the ophthalmologist to learn about computer vision syndrome, which I have been actively addressing since then. Therefore, to prevent you from going through the same thing I did, I am going to tell you all about how to protect your eyes from computer eye strain.
Working actively to prevent computer eye strain is not only going to give you short term relief, but it can also help to protect your eyes long term. If you are like me, I am highly motivated to do whatever it takes to keep my eyes contact and glasses-free. I have no intention of needing reading glasses as soon as I turn 40 years old, so I am all about putting into practice the steps needed to protect your eyes from computer eye strain.
What exactly is computer eye strain?
Computer eye strain, or computer vision syndrome (CVS) – the technical term – is not one specific problem, but rather a whole range of symptoms involving eye strain and pain. It affects between 50% – 90% of people who work at a computer or use a smart phone (safe to say this is almost all of us). It has also begun to affect children as well, due to the early introduction of devices.
CVS is caused by repetitive movements of the eye done over and over again. When on a computer or a phone, our eyes are constantly reading back and forth, scrolling up and down, focusing and refocusing for hours and hours. Unlike reading a book, magazine or newspaper, a computer or phone screen adds eye-irritating factors such as contrast, flicker, glare, ongoing refresh rates, radiation and unnatural lighting.
The way we focus and see in real life constantly changes while looking at real objects, which have texture and depth. The use of computers, phones and devices have changed that. Instead our eyes stay at a fixed distance when looking at screens. This causes the eyes to become locked in this close range, increasing nearsightedness or myopia.
Do I have computer eye strain? What are the symptoms?
If you own a computer or a smart phone then there is a good chance that you have experienced at least one of these symptoms.
- blurred vision
- double vision
- redness in eyes
- dry eyes
- neck and shoulder pain
- ocular migraines
- excessive tear secretion
- light or glare sensitivity
- contact lens discomfort
- slowness in changing focus
- changes in color perception
Long Term Consequences
- age-related macular degeneration (leading cause of vision loss)
The good news is that many of these symptoms are only temporary and will fade away after usage stops. However, some people may experience continued reduced visual abilities such as blurred distance vision, tired eyes and headaches even after stopping.
The bad news is that new research suggests that overexposure to the blue light (high-energy visible – HEV) emitted from computer and phone screens may contribute to more serious eye problems. It is suggested that it could age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss. For these reasons it is so important to start paying attention to this now. Our usage will most likely only increase, thereby increasing our risk for serious eye issues.
Computer and Smart Phone Use and its Impact on Children
Now here we come to a very important issue – children and device usage. Children have more access to computers and smart phones than ever before, and this is starting at a very young age. The reason this may be an issue is that several studies indicate that heavy computer and phone use among children put them at the risk of getting early myopia (nearsightedness). For example, according to the National Eye Institute nearsightedness has increased by 66 percent since the 1970s, a problem that is undeniably linked to the usage of video games and devices.
According to American Optometric Association the impact of computer use on children is vision involves three factors.
- Children have a limited degree of self-awareness. They perform a task on a computer for hours and hours without breaks. This prolonged activity causes computer vision syndrome.
- Children are very adaptable. They assume that what they see and how they see is normal, even if the vision is a problem. Therefore, they are more likely to suffer from symptoms of computer vision syndrome without treatment, furthering the progression of the symptoms.
- Children are smaller than adults and tend to view a computer that is set up for an adult rather than a child. The angle at which a child would be viewing the computer is known to increase the strain on the eyes, furthering computer vision syndrome.
Main Tips for How to Protect your Eyes from Computer Eye Strain
There are many recommendations out there on how to reduce eye strain, but I really want to focus on the ones that I think are the most effective and practical. The good news is that these tips are easy to implement and have far more benefits than just the health of the eye. They can help to increase productivity, reduce fatigue, encourage focus and concentration and prevent the occurrence of headaches.
The first step I took to improving my vision was to buy anti-glare glasses. A factor in the development of computer vision syndrome is the glare that reflects off of the computer screen. By wearing glasses with anti-glare lenses, it helps to combat strain, preventing computer strain syndrome. They also help to soften the glare of harsh indoor and outdoor lighting, while also improving the contrast of digital content.
I only use these glasses when I work on the computer and have noticed a huge difference. The best part is that you do not need a prescription by your doctor, you can go into any glasses store and purchase them. Since I do not wear glasses or contacts, they are essentially clear with an anti-glare lens.
If you want to take it a step further, you can purchase lenses that selectively absorb harmful blue light, keeping it from entering through the eye. These lenses are either infused with melanin or use a blue-light filtering coating and can also be purchased at most glasses stores.
Here is an overview of the different types of lenses:
– Reduces reflection and glare from indoor and outdoor lighting sources in addition to ghost reflections from light sources that can contribute to visual noise and potential visual distractions.
– Reduces reflection while blocking out potentially harmful HEV light. Some fluorescent light and backlit leD devices produce a lot of light at the blue end of the spectrum.
– May filter out harmful blue and violet light that is emitted by many digital devices. These filters may also be prescribed to reduce harsh office lighting and balance colors
Take a Zeaxanthin and Lutein Supplement
My second favorite thing to do for my eyes is to take a supplement. Really interesting research has been done on the nutrients zeaxanthin and lutein and their ability to improve vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths of light that come from your devices. This helps to protect and maintain healthy cells in the eyes.
The good news is that lutein and zeaxanthin help the eye in other ways as well. Of all the 600 carotenoids antioxidants found in nature, only lutein and zeaxanthin are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye. When in the eye, they act as antioxidants that neutralize free radicals (unstable molecules), which are associated with oxidative stress and retinal damage. As a result, lutein and zeaxanthin play a role in preventing cataracts and preventing the onset and progression of macular degeneration. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that higher dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin was associated with a significantly decreased risk of cataract formation.
Most recent studies show health benefits in taking 10 mg/day of a lutein supplement and 2 mg/day of a zeaxanthin supplement.
Supplement: Lutein and Zeaxanthin by Pure Encapsulations
Blue Light Filter
Blue light is a term that we have been mentioning, and it a huge player in computer eye strain, so let’s look at it more closely. Blue light is the name for high-energy visible (heV) light in the blue and violet part of the light spectrum. It is a particularly intense light wave emitted by many modern electronics — including computers, tablets and smartphones — and even compact fluorescent light bulbs. Studies suggest that overexposure to blue light can damage the retina, the part of the eye that brings objects into focus. This occurs when blue light penetrates the macular pigment of the eye and causes a breakdown of that protective shield, leaving the eye more susceptible to blue light exposure and cell degeneration. Over time, accumulated damage can increase the likelihood and severity of eye disorders such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
So what are we going to do about it? Reducing the color temperature of your display on your computer and phone lowers the amount of blue light emitted. There are many apps on your phone that will neutralize the blue light, and there are simple downloads for your computer that can help you as well. Once you try it you will instantly notice a difference. The red and yellow hues seem much more soothing to the eye than the blue.
Set up your Computer Properly
Next up in how to protect your eyes from computer eye strain is how to set up your computer properly. By getting the distance of your computer right, as well as the lighting, you can start giving your eyes some relief.
– set your computer an arm’s length away from your face. When sitting straight, you should be able to extend your arm and high-five the computer screen. As for your phones and hand-held devices, you should keep them at a comfortable distance from your eyes and at an angle just slightly below eye level.
– dim surrounding lights so that the computer screen is the brightest light in the room
– close blinds or curtains in the room to prevent glare
– increase text sizes on your smart phone
– make sure your monitor has a high-resolution display
– replace fluorescent lights
Do your Eye Exercises
Now here is a fun step, do some exercises! Don’t worry, no sweat required.
- Eye rolling: take a minute, ever so often, and a do a quick eye roll. It’s pretty simple. All you need to do is to close your eyes and roll them around a few times. This helps to lubricate your eyes and eases the strain on the muscles.
- 20-20-20 rule: this is the most recommended practice for preventing computer eye strain. Every 20 minutes look away from the computer and focus on a distant object (at least 20 feet away) for 20 seconds to 1 minute. Looking far away relaxes the focusing muscle inside the eye to reduce fatigue. Then blink 10 times to moisten the eye. The reason blinking is so important is because when we work on a computer or look at our phone we tend to blink less frequently- about one-third as often as we normally do. The less we blink, the drier and more irritated the eyes, so remember to keep blinking!
Know your Lighting
The simple act of changing the light in your work space can do wonders to improve your eye sight. The lighting in the room should not be too bright, but rather slightly less than the light emitted from the computer. Excessive fluorescent lighting should be reduced and window lighting should be filtered with curtains or blinds or tinting. Make sure there is no reflection or glare on the computer screen. That’s it!
Computer Vision Syndrome: A Review Clayton Blehm, MD Seema Vishnu, MD, FRCS Ashbala Khattak, MD Shrabanee Mitra, MD Richard W. Yee, MD￼ Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Texas at Houston, Hermann Eye Center, Houston, Texas, USA
A clinical study on “Computer vision syndrome” and its management with Triphala eye drops and Saptamrita Lauha M. P. Gangamma, Poonam, and Manjusha Rajagopala
Wimalasundera, Saman. “Computer vision syndrome.” Galle Medical Journal 11.1 (2009).
Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 Research Group. Lutein + zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids for age-related macular degeneration: the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2013; 209(19):2005–15.