When we discuss protecting our eyes at work, we often think of the workers who are exposed to debris, chemicals, wood chips, metal fragments, etc. These individuals require specific eye protection, such as safety glasses or goggles, to keep their eyes safe from injury while on the job.
However, in our age of technology, we also need to add those who work on computers to the list. Not only can eye injuries decrease productivity at work, but visual discomfort and eye strain are also contributing factors. Another source of work-related vision problems is prolonged computer use, which can lead to symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS).
According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), the most common symptoms of CVS are “eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain.” Viewing a computer screen is very different from reading paper-printed material. Computer screens have different levels of illumination that can cause poor contrast, there is opportunity for glare and reflections off of a computer screen, and improper posture at the computer can contribute to back and neck strain.
Our eyes have increased demand for focusing while at the computer due to these factors, and even a small amount of uncorrected refractive error can leave our eyes feeling miserable.
Working at the computer for lengthy periods of time can also cause our eyes to feel dry due to a decrease in blink rate and incomplete blinking. Anyone working at the computer for more than two continuous hours is at risk for developing computer vision syndrome.
The AOA states, “prevention or reduction of the vision problems associated with CVS involves taking steps to control lighting and glare on the computer screen, establishing proper working distances and posture for computer viewing, and assuring that even minor vision problems are properly corrected.”
Here are some tips for preventing or reducing symptoms of CVS:
- Position your computer screen slightly below eye level (about 4-5 inches).
- Reduce glare off the computer screen by making sure that light sources are turned away from the screen. If not possible, use an anti-glare screen.
- Drink water throughout the workday and try to limit caffeine intake; this can help your eyes feel less dry.
- Make sure that air vents are not aimed directly at you.
- Follow the 20/20 rule: every 20 minutes at the computer take a break and look at something in the distance for at least 20 seconds, allowing your eyes to refocus.
- Blink! Try and make a conscious effort to blink more often while at the computer.
- Pay attention to workplace ergonomics: note your chair and desk position. Make sure you are seated so that your feet rest flat on the floor and your wrists are not resting on the keyboard.
While the practices listed above are helpful, they may not be all that you need. Eyestrain and blur can be due to uncorrected refractive error. Even if you think your vision seems fine most of the time, you may need something that specifically corrects any lack in ability to focus at the computer.
You and your eye doctor can work together to find the most appropriate resolution to your symptoms.
Doctor of Optometry at Metro Eye
Director, Ocular Surface Disease Clinic