Once you get in the flow of working at your computer, several hours might pass before you remember to take a break. When you finally do turn away, your eyes may feel tired and perhaps your vision is a bit blurry.
“Digital eye strain is increasingly common,” says Marianne Ghatta, O.D., an optometrist with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “Many of my patients come in with eye strain and blurred vision simply from staring at the computer for too long, too often.”
Digital eye strain, sometimes called computer vision syndrome, can occur when you sit close to a screen for two hours or more without taking a break. Symptoms include eye tiredness, blurred vision, headache, and neck or shoulder pain.
Dry eyes cause most of the symptoms, Dr. Ghatta says. Typically, you blink about 18 times a minute, and each blink releases a bit of moisture into your eyes. But blink rate decreases when staring at a screen, resulting in dry or burning eyes.
“Screens also have brightness, flicker and glare, which are hard on the eyes,” Dr. Ghatta says. “It’s very different than looking at a piece of paper.” Here are five simple tips to prevent digital eye strain.
- Keep it Arm’s Length
Place your computer screen 23 to 25 inches away from your eyes—about an arm’s length away. Hold smartphones and tablets 16 to 18 inches away.
- Take 20-20-20 Breaks
Every 20 minutes, turn away from your computer and focus on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Set your smartphone alarm to vibrate every 20 minutes as a reminder.
- Reduce Glare
If you sit near a window, position your screen so it doesn’t reflect as much glare. Consider getting shades for the window or an anti-glare cover for your computer screen.
- Check Into Computer Glasses
You probably know about reading and driving glasses, but you might not think to ask your optometrist about computer glasses, which help your eyes focus at the exact distance of your computer screen. They can make a big difference if you are on the computer all day.
- Get Checked Regularly
Your vision and eye health change over time. The prescription glasses that worked well for you three years ago may not be right for you today. Even minor prescription differences can really help with eye strain, so schedule an annual exam every year or two.