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If you work at a computer, you know how awful your eyes often feel by the end of the day.
After staring at screens, eyes become dry, itchy, blurry, irritated – and that discomfort is frequently accompanied by a headache.
This phenomenon is known as eyestrain, often referred to as “digital eyestrain,” since many of us experience it after staring at computers all day (it probably doesn’t help that we stare at phones during breaks and often return to staring at computers or other screens at home).
“It’s an important issue,” says Dr. Rahul Khurana, the clinical spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmologists. Still, he says, it’s possible to overhype the concerns about eyestrain too. For example, there’s no evidence that looking at screens is causing things as severe as vision loss. For this reason and others, there’s no need to purchase special glasses to avoid eyestrain. “It causes people to be uncomfortable – it causes irritation,” he says. But “we haven’t seen any issues with eyestrain causing permanent damage.”
By following a few simple procedures, it’s possible to avoid most of the negative effects of eyestrain in the first place.
Understand the main cause of eyestrain: blinking (or really, not blinking enough).
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We blink less when we focus intently on something like a computer screen. Instead of blinking 15 times a minute, we’ll do so 12 or 10 times, which dries out our eyes. This isn’t just a computer problem – focusing on books or magazines can cause the same symptoms.
“Over the course of the day if [cornea cells] dry out beyond a certain point, they can’t recover,” says Dr. Richard Rosen, the director of retina services at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai and the ophthalmology research director at the Icahn School of Medicine. “Not until they’re replaced overnight will you feel comfortable.”
Try to keep your eyes moist.
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It’s hard to remember to blink when you’re focusing intently, but it’s worth making an effort.
Artificial tears, or eye drops, can also help keep your eyes feel refreshed throughout the day. If you’re in a particularly dry environment, a humidifier may help as well.
Give your eyes a break with the 20-20-20 rule.
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To give your eyes a break from that intense, eye-drying focus, you can follow a simple rule, according to Khurana. Every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. That’ll allow your eyes to rest and give yourself a little time to blink normally.
Avoid screen glare and set up your lighting properly.
Glare from your screen can increase the strain on your eyes, which will also have a hard time adjusting if the light on your screen is much brighter (or dimmer) than the surrounding light.
To fix this, try to make sure that screen brightness is on a level similar to that of the room you’re in. And if glare is a particular issue, consider a matte screen.
Know that contacts can dry out your eyes even more.
If you wear contacts, know that they can make dryness and eye irritation caused by long periods of focus worse, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Eye Smart site. Consider wearing glasses occasionally instead – and don’t sleep wearing your contacts.
If you are having real trouble, see an eye doctor.
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If you are consistently experiencing serious eye trouble – blurriness, redness, discharge, or sensitivity – don’t assume that it’s just eyestrain. See an eye doctor in case there’s something else that’s wrong. For most eye diseases, catching problems early makes it easier to intervene and treat them. And don’t assume that computer glasses of some sort will automatically solve any problems.
“I wouldn’t recommend patients use any special type of computer glasses except glasses to correct their refractive errors,” Khurana says. If you are having trouble, see an ophthalmologist or an optometrist.