Excessive Screen Time – How to Deal with Digital Eye Strain


Covid-19 has affected the lives of everyone with masks, lockdowns, and social distancing the new norm. As people emerge from isolation, what changes are we seeing?
Most people in business and academia are now running their worlds from a home office, spending long hours in front of computer screens. Even our kids are studying online. And we are shopping, gaming and socializing online.
This new digital world provides us with numerous opportunities to explore. Our rising use of screens has come with an increased demand on our vision in general, and our eyes in particular.

For those sitting in front of a computer screen (or screens) for long hours, the result has been a significant increase in eye related symptoms; Dry eyes, blurry vision, red, itchy eyes, headaches, as well as shoulder and neck pain. We refer to this as digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome, and it can lead to long term health implications.

Here are 10 tips to help reduce the eye strain caused by our digital life, and help you avoid computer vision syndrome.

Proper lights

Inappropriate lighting is a major factor in visual discomfort causing symptoms such as eyestrain, burning or itchy eyes, headaches and blurred or double vision. Use enough light for you to see the words on the screen, but should not so much as to cause glare or discomfort.
Research from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that warmer color-spectrum lighting may be safer for your eyes. Some adjustments you can make include;

  • For computer work, well-distributed diffuse light is best.
  • Close window shades and turn off lights that shine directly at you.
  • Use indirect lighting, where possible, and avoid intense light.
  • Use a table lamp that provides soft lighting.
  • Use LED bulbs rather than CFL or fluorescent lighting.

Reduce glare

Light is crucial for vision. It bounces off objects and enters your eyes, which allows you to see. But sometimes, it’s the source of vision problems, like glare.
Simply put, glare occurs when too much light enters your eye, interfering with your eye’s ability to see clearly. Glare can be distracting and even dangerous and occurs day and night.
For computer users, glare happens when excess light bounces off your screen and other surfaces around you.
The best way to deal with glare in your home or office is to wear glasses with an anti-reflective coating, or you can install an anti-glare protector on your computer screen.

Have regular eye exams

People often wait to visit their eye doctor (Optometrist) until they notice an issue such as excess irritation, pain or blurry vision. This can lead to more serious eye conditions not being caught soon enough to treat successfully.
Having an annual comprehensive eye health evaluation can prevent/treat headaches, dry itchy eyes and many other vision problems. Tell your doctor how long you typically work on the computer.
You should also provide details, such as how far your eyes are from the screen, do you look up, down or straight ahead to view your screen. And whether you experience pain, irritation or dryness and blurring while working, and much more.
With this information, the doctor can provide you with the best prescription for your needs, allowing you to see clearly.

Update your system

Your eyes will experience discomfort and pain if you keep working on a stone-age computer.
To ensure your system is setup for maximum eye comfort, do the following:

  • Replace your old system with the latest high-resolution display.
  • Adjust the brightness to match the surroundings.
  • If budget allows, invest in a device with a larger screen for more comfortable viewing.

Adjust your computer display

Proper display settings can reduce eye strain and fatigue to a significant level. The following adjustments will be beneficial:

  • Location – Place your computer display directly in front of you and at a comfortable working distance if at all possible. Also, adjust the height of your display so you can look at it comfortably, without having to raise or lower your head. This helps reduce neck strain.
  • Brightness– Adjust the screen brightness to a level that is comfortable. Not too bright, not too dim. Try to match the white background of the screen with the surroundings for maximum eye comfort.
  • Text size and contrast– Adjust the text size. keeping your eye comfort in mind. This is especially important for reading/writing long documents. The device need not be too close to your eyes if you increase the screen size.
  • Color temperature– Consider reducing the color temperatures of the screen. It will help reduce the blue light emitted by the display. And you can see more comfortably, and for longer hours.

Handheld Devices

Don’t hold your phone, tablet, or game too close to your face. Instead try increasing the screen text size to make it easier to read.
Avoid staring at your phone or tablet in the dark. You can talk to your optometrist about anti-reflective coatings to reduce glare and filter blue light from your smartphone at night.

Blink your eyes

It is natural for your blink rate to decrease while looking at a display screen for long periods of time. Less blinking leads to dry, scratchy eyes and fluctuating vision. Some people keep artificial tears handy to combat dry eyes.

Exercise your eyes

While push ups and jumping jacks may be difficult, you can exercise your eyes and help reduce the signs of computer eye strain by following the 20-20-20 Rule.
“Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds”
This will help your eyes and eye muscles to relax, making your eyes feel less fatigued.
You can simply set a reminder on your phone or computer, or you can try one of the available apps.

Take breaks

When it comes to working on your computer for long periods of time, frequent breaks are crucial to relieve headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, and muscle aches.
You need not leave your seat (though doing so every few hours is beneficial to avoiding secretary spread) Simply move your head from left to right and right to left, stretch your arms, legs and back to reduce muscle fatigue.
Do this every 20 minute while you follow the 20-20-20 Rule and see the results.

Hydrate your eyes (and body)

Drink lots of water.
Studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids reduce eye inflammation and therefore help in reducing the symptoms of dry eyes. They are also necessary for proper tear film. Without a proper tear film, your eyes tears can not adequately lubricate your eyes.
Other foods rich in this nutrient are chia seeds, walnuts, soyabean oil and fatty fish such as salmon and sardines. In addition to this, you can use artificial tears or wetting drops to keep your eyes moist.

*NOTE: Never use an eye drop that claims to reduce redness for dry eyes. Your eyes are red because your body is calling for more oxygen for your eyes. The blood vessels enlarge to help supply this oxygen making them more visible and red. Using a drop to get rid of red eyes, is doing the exact opposite of what your body needs.

Your digital eye strain will diminish on its own if you follow the tips mentioned above.
If you experience eye issues for an extended period, or have an issue not mentioned here, schedule an appointment with your optometrist to find out the underlying cause.

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