As society has grown increasingly digitised, the amount of time we spend in front of screens has drastically increased. According to a study by Ofcom, Britons spend more than half of our days in front of the screen.
While there have been many studies that look at the psychological implications of spending too much time attached to screens, few people truly understand the very serious eye health implications that come with excessive screen time. Blurry vision, dryness, and tired looking eyes are all common symptoms that come with eye strain from spending too much time in front of a computer.
Health Problems That Come From Staring At A Screen All Day
Dry eye syndrome is a general term to define several types of eye problems that stem from staring at screens for long periods of the day. It is estimated that more than half of those who work in offices or in front of computers will exhibit some symptoms of dry eye syndrome.
Dry eye syndrome is caused not just by the glare of the computer screen, but also through the exertion on the eye muscles. As you type or read on a screen, your eye muscles are continuously moving and refocusing as you move from the screen to other images. This exertion on the eye muscles is what leads to eye strain and irritation.
Headaches, eye pain, and neck and back pain are just a few of the immediate symptoms that come with dry eye syndrome. Furthermore, repetitive eye strain from working long hours on a computer can lead to early onset long-sightedness, wherein the lenses in your eyes become less flexible and thus affect your ability to focus quickly on both near and far objects.
Strategies to Avoid Eye Strain While at Work
Fortunately, there are several strategies that can help you avoid the negative symptoms and long-term effects of dry eye syndrome. Below we look at a few ideas to help you keep your eyes healthy even when working long office hours in front of the computer.
The 20-20-20 Rule
When working behind a desk, remind yourself to follow the 20-20-20 rule. This rule simply states that after 20 minutes in front of a computer, take your eyes off the screen and focus on something at least 20 feet (ca. 6 m) away for a minimum of 20 seconds. By focusing on distant objects that do not have the glare of the computer screen, you will be naturally resting your eye muscles and helping the lens to maintain its natural flexibility.
There are several other eye exercises that can also be done to help you keep your eyes healthy when in front of a screen. If you suffer from dry eyes, make sure to take a break every 20 to 30 minutes. Look away from the screen and blink slowly 10 to 15 times. This will encourage moisture to rise in your eyes and help prevent redness and aridness.
Another simple exercise requires you to take a break every 20 minutes. While on your break, focus on a distant object for 15 seconds and then look at something close up for 15 seconds. Repeat this exercise 10 times. This helps relax the focus muscles in your eyes while also avoiding a condition called accommodative spasms which causes your eyes to 'lock up'.
Cut Back on Glare
Another fundamental cause of eye problems in frequent computer uses is related to the glare of the screen that forces you to squint and place unneeded pressure on your eye. You can avoid this problem through several measures.
Firstly, make sure that you are using an LCD screen. These screens, unlike tube screens, have less glare and often include anti-reflective surfaces. Furthermore, tweak the brightness settings on your computer so that they are closest to the ambient light in your office. If the whiteness of the background of your webpage is a source of light in the room, your computer is most likely too bright. Also, you should increase the size of the text when reading or typing as this will reduce the amount of strain on your eye.
You could also choose to change the colour temperature of your monitor. Since blue light is generally harder on your eyes, switching to red or orange hues that have longer wavelengths can reduce the strain put on your eyes. Most monitors have colour temperature settings built into them through the screens settings. During the day, the colour temperature of your display should be close to 6500K and closer to 3000K in the evening. You can also manage the colour temperature of your screen through settings in the control panel (Windows) or Systems Preferences (Mac).
All of these simple strategies can help you avoid immediate discomfort while also avoiding long-term damage to your eyesight.
For fast relief from dry and tired eyes, you can use eye drops. These solutions replenish the protective fluid layer (tear film) which covers the front of your eye (cornea). You can buy eye drops from your local pharmacy or from online services such as Prescription Doctor. While no prescription is required for these kinds of eye drops, you should speak to your doctor or pharmacist to ensure they are safe for you.