We live in a digital age. This means that we are more connected than ever before, and a wealth of information sits at our fingertips. But have our eyes had a chance to evolve at the same rate as our technological habits?
Humans were not designed to stare at illuminated screens for hours, or days at a time. The eyesight of our hunter-gatherer ancestors was primarily set much further in the distance, and it is only in more recent history that our attention has been substantially focused only a foot to 18-inches in front of us. More than that, our eyes today are constantly in motion, quickly scanning left to right and repeatedly darting up and down as we shift our attention to and from the screen.
For this reason, it should not come at any surprise that eye problems—and the other physiological ailments that can arise as a result—are becoming increasingly serious and widespread. And it’s not just adults at their desk jobs; it’s affecting those younger and younger as we become digitally dependent earlier in life. Today, there’s even a name for it: computer vision syndrome (CVS). You may have also heard of it referred to as “digital eye strain.”
So what does this include? Blurred or double vision, irritation or dryness, headaches or back pain. Sometimes, all of the above. The severity of these symptoms tends to increase with the amount of time an individual has spent looking at a screen. And while most symptoms are temporary and will reduce after you begin to focus your attention elsewhere, over time the onset that many people experience tends to become shorter and shorter, with increasingly longer recovery times.
Given that nearly every person who spends a considerable time in front of a screen has experienced some of these symptoms (which is pretty much all of us, at this point), it is definitely worth looking into ways to minimize damage and sustain your eye health. Below are some recommendations that can dramatically reduce the wear and tear on your eyes. A few involve you making some adjustments, either to your computer settings or your work environment, while others are actions that you’ll need to repeatedly remind yourself to take now and in the future. It’s worth trying to implement as many as possible for the benefit of your eyes. After all, we only get one pair!
This one should be pretty easy to remember—after all 20 is pretty much THE number that we associate with vision. The rule is straightforward: every 20 minutes, you should focus your vision on something about 20 feet away from you, for at least 20 seconds. This is arguably the most important item on this list, and something that pretty much any optometrist worth their salt will recommend to you—so be sure to commit it to memory!
The underlying takeaway of this rule is that you should be giving your eyes frequent breaks. Get up, take a walk around the block, get a cup of coffee or enjoy the sunset. Taking time to reset your attention is good for more than just your eyes. It is good for your neck and back, which may be experiencing issues from prolonged sitting. It will do a world of good for your brain and focus as well, which are also likely fatigued. Set yourself a timer if you need to, just make sure that you actually take the time for yourself. You’ll come back feeling refreshed and will likely end up being far more productive in the long run.
Have you noticed that your eyes strain every time you check your email? You don’t have to stick with a standard font size just because it is the standard operator setting. Most programs are customizable, so take advantage of that! When it comes to internet browsers, email platforms, or writing software, you often have the ability to personalize your settings to your own preference. This could include increasing the line spacing or font size.
While you’re at it, you can also adjust the brightness and contrast of your computer as well. An overly bright or contrasted screen can quickly exhaust our eyes, putting undue strain on our vision. You can even adjust the color temperature on your screen or monitor. Basically, the shorter visible light waves—such as blues—have been shown to place much more strain on the eyes than the longer visible light waves, like red or orange. These shorter waves are what give our computer screens their brightness. By manually altering your computer’s color temperature, you can greatly reduce the amount of strain put on your eyes by the omitting light. You should only have to make this adjustment once, and your eyes will benefit thereafter.
When your eyes are dry they can become increasingly irritated. By blinking often you can naturally lubricate your eyes and reduce some of this additional strain. It’s good to remember that we are all different, and some of us may be more predisposed to dry eyes. If you find that your eyes are frequently irritated—either staring at a computer or not—then it may be good to have some eye drops on hand.
Also, take a look at your surrounding environment and make sure that you aren’t working in an area that could promote dry eyes. For example, a fan or air conditioner blowing directly in your face is not going to help you keep your eyes moisturized. If you find that you’re working in a dry environment, consider investing in a humidifier.
Some people are annoyingly fixated on finding the “perfect lighting” for a situation. You know the type: they will move around floor lamps, change light bulbs, and adjust the overhead brightness, all at annoyingly specific degrees. However, in terms of reducing eyestrain from staring at a computer, they are definitely on to something. Make sure that you have adequate lighting around your computer, so you aren’t just relying on the light from your computer. Also, make sure that your computer is positioned in a way that reduces any glare, which can add to eye fatigue and related symptoms.
Light is important—and not just as it refers to your workstation. This is also to say that, if you find that you can’t sleep, it’s not a good idea to pull out your phone and start scanning social media streams in near-total darkness. First off, the light of the screen is not going to do your brain any favors when it comes to falling back to sleep. Some studies show that this behavior can also negatively affect your memory and increase your risk of depression. It is also exactly the sort of thing that puts enormous strain on your eyes. So the next time you wake up in the middle of the night, try counting sheep or focusing on your breath. Your eyes will thank you.
Beyond lighting, make sure that you create a space that is conducive to healthy productivity. If you are consistently looking between your computer and books or papers, try to keep these materials at a similar height to your computer screen. To that end, most people sit far too close to their computer. Ideally, it should be between 20 and 30 inches from your face. The screen should also be right below your horizontal line of vision. A screen too high or too low can quickly cause eye problems. By focusing on the position of your computer, as well as your seating, you can create a working environment that that is much more eye-friendly; you will also feel a world of difference in your neck and back. It’s a good idea to make sure that you keep your computer clean as well. Dust on the screen can quickly decrease the sharpness of your screen, leaving your eyes to work overtime.
This is pretty much just good common sense. Set up regular appointments with your optometrist to keep your eyes healthy. This will ensure that your prescription is up to date; any symptoms related with computer vision syndrome will likely lessen when you update your lenses or get your first pair of glasses.
You can also ask your optometrist about specialized computer glasses. Basically, these have been designed with yellow tinted lenses to counter the effects of the harmful blue light waves that were mentioned earlier. And while you might not be winning any fashion competitions while wearing these tech-minded frames, they can cut back on some of the ill effects of staring at a computer screen for hours on end.
Most of us probably are not able to completely stop looking at our computer screens in order to benefit our eyes—nor would we want to—but by following the above suggestions, you can help keep your eyes as fresh and healthy as possible.
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