Computer Eyestrain: 10 Steps for Relief 

With so many people using computers at work, eyestrain has become one of the leading office­related health complaints. 

Experts estimate 50% to 90% of computer users experience some degree of eyestrain or other symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS) during their work day. Studies show eyestrain and CVS often cause fatigue, decreased productivity and more work errors.

So what can you do about it? Here are steps you (and your employer) can take to reduce computer eyestrain and the other common symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS):

1.  Get a computer eye exam. This is the most important thing you can do to prevent computer vision problems. Be sure to tell your eye doctor how often you use a computer at work and at home.

2.  Use proper lighting. Computer eyestrain is often caused by excessively bright ambient lighting — either from outdoor sunlight coming in through a window or from harsh interior lighting. For the most comfortable computer use, ambient lighting should be about half as bright as that found in most offices.

3.  Minimize glare. Glare on walls and finished surfaces, as well as reflections on the computer screen, can also cause computer eyestrain. You may want to install an anti­glare screen on your monitor and, if possible, paint bright white walls a darker color with a matte finish.

If you wear glasses, have an anti­reflective (AR) coating applied to your lenses. AR coating reduces glare by minimizing the amount of light reflecting off the front and back surfaces of your eyeglass lenses.

4.  Upgrade your display. If you've not already done so, replace your old tube­style monitor (called a cathode ray tube or CRT) with a flat­panel liquid crystal display (LCD), like those on laptop computers.

5.  Adjust the brightness and contrast of your computer screen. For more comfortable viewing, adjust the display settings on your computer so the brightness of the screen is about the same as that of your work environment.

6.  Blink more often. Blinking is very important — it rewets your eyes to keep them moist, comfortable and clear.

Studies show that, during computer use, people blink less frequently — about one-third as often as they normally do. And, according to studies, many blinks performed during computer work are only partial lid closures. This greatly increases the risk for dry eyes, blurred vision, eye irritation and fatigue.

Keep a bottle of artificial tears at your workplace and use them to moisten your eyes often during prolonged computer use. Ask your eye doctor to recommend the best brands for your needs.

7.  Exercise your eyes. Another cause of computer eyestrain is focusing fatigue. Research shows that it's harder for our eyes to maintain focus on computer-generated images than on printed images in a book or magazine.

To reduce your risk of focusing fatigue during computer use, look away from your screen or monitor every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object across the room. Looking far away relaxes the focusing muscles inside your eyes, reducing focusing fatigue.

8.  Take frequent breaks. Take frequent, short breaks from your computer work throughout the day. Stand up, walk away from your work station and stretch your arms, legs, back, neck and shoulders. These activities will reduce your risk for computer vision syndrome and neck, back and shoulder pain.

9.  Modify your workstation. Looking back and forth between a printed page and your computer screen (as during data entry tasks), can also cause eyestrain. To improve comfort during these tasks, place the print material on a copy stand adjacent to your screen or monitor. If necessary, use a desk lamp to illuminate the print material ­ but make sure it doesn't shine into your eyes or onto the computer screen.

Improper posture during computer work also contributes to computer vision syndrome. Adjust your workstation and chair to a comfortable height so your feet are flat on the floor in front of you. Adjust your chair and computer so your screen is approximately 20 to 24 inches from your eyes and slightly below eye level so you can view it comfortably with your head and neck in a natural position.

10. Consider computer eyewear. For the greatest comfort at your computer, you may benefit from having a customized eyeglasses prescription for your computer work. This is especially true if you normally wear contact lenses that can become dry and uncomfortable during sustained computer work.

Computer glasses are also a good choice if you normally wear eyeglasses with bifocal or progressive lenses. Though these lenses provide excellent vision for most tasks, they don't provide an adequate viewing zone for prolonged computer work.

Your eye doctor can prescribe specially designed computer eyewear to give you the best possible vision at your computer screen. Keep in mind that computer glasses are a specific type of eyewear and typically should not be worn when driving.

Computer Glasses

When you work at a computer for any length of time, it's common to experience eyestrain, blurred vision and other symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS). Viewing computer­generated print and images on a screen or monitor for prolonged periods is harder on the eyes than viewing a similar amount of material on the printed pages of a book or magazine.

If you're under age 40, blurred vision during computer use may be due to your eyes being unable to remain accurately focused on your screen for sustained periods. Or you may have a hard time quickly and accurately changing focus, such as when you shift your gaze from your monitor to your keyboard and back again. This problem, called lag of accommodation, can cause eyestrain and headaches — two common symptoms of CVS.

If you're over age 40, the onset of presbyopia — the normal age­related loss of near focusing ability — can make focusing on a computer screen even more difficult, further increasing the risk of eyestrain, headaches and eye fatigue.

So what can you do to make your eyes more comfortable and function more efficiently during computer use? Have your eye doctor prescribe specially designed computer glasses.

Customized computer glasses can make a world of difference. These special­purpose glasses are prescribed specifically to reduce eyestrain and give you the most comfortable vision at your computer.

I Already Wear Glasses. Do I Really Need Computer Glasses?

If you already wear prescription eyeglasses or reading glasses, you may be tempted to dismiss the idea of computer glasses. But eyeglasses prescribed for general-purpose wearing are often not well­suited for prolonged computer work.

Why? When working at a computer, your eyes are generally 20 to 26 inches from your computer screen. This distance is considered the intermediate zone of vision — closer than driving (distance) vision, but farther away than reading (near) vision.

Most young people wear eyeglasses to correct their distance vision. Reading glasses are prescribed to correct near vision only. And bifocals prescribed for those over age 40 with presbyopia correct only near and far. None of these eyeglasses are optimized for the intermediate zone of vision used during computer work.

Even trifocals and progressive lenses, which do include the correct power for intermediate vision, have only a small portion of the lens dedicated to this area — not nearly a large enough area for comfortable prolonged computer work.

Without the appropriate eyewear, computer users can often end up with blurred vision, eyestrain, and headaches — the hallmark symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS). Worse still, many people try to compensate for their blurred vision by leaning forward, or by tipping their head to look through the bottom portion of their glasses. These unnatural postures can lead to headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and backaches.

Computer Glasses Reduce Errors and Increase Productivity

Research has shown that, in addition to increasing comfort and decreasing the risk of CVS, prescription computer glasses can reduce errors and productivity loss caused by vision problems during computer work.

Computer Lens Designs

There are a number of special purpose lens designs that work well for computer glasses. Because these lenses are prescribed specifically for computer use, they are unsuitable for driving or general­purpose wear.

The simplest computer glasses have single vision lenses with a modified lens power prescribed to give the most comfortable vision at the user's computer screen. These lenses reduce the amount of focusing the eyes have to do to keep images on the computer screen clear and provide the largest field of view, reducing the need for head tilting and other unnatural posture changes during computer work.

For older computer users, a specially designed occupational progressive lens for computer use is sometimes a better option. Progressive lenses for computer use have a larger intermediate zone than regular progressive lenses for a wider, more comfortable view of the computer screen.

Another option for presbyopic computer users is an occupational lined bifocal or trifocal, with larger intermediate and near zones than regular designs.

Your eyecare professional can help you decide which lens design will best suit your needs.

Lens Coatings and Treatments

Anti­reflective (AR) coating can make your computer glasses even more comfortable. This coating reduces glare caused by reflections of overhead fluorescent lighting that can occur in uncoated eyeglass lenses.

Also, because many office environments are too bright for optimum visual comfort,a light tint is often a good idea as well.

Finally, some of the newer computer lenses are specifically designed to block the short­wavelength, blue light that is emitted from computer screens and digital devices. Blue light is associated with glare, eyestrain and potentially more serious long­term vision problems.

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