When we switch our computer on in the morning, we are usually greeted by a beautiful screensaver. Maybe it is a vacation snapshot, a picture of the kids, or a beautiful scene out of nature. Try as we might, those beautiful screensavers cannot cover up the fact that our computer screens may be causing us pain.

Screens are ubiquitous, and our use of them has increased as technology advances. The average adult spends 11 hours a day time looking at a screen (and checking a cell phone 150 times a day), and that may not count all of the hours logged in front of a computer at work. Kids are not much better. Their screen time averages clock in at seven hours and 38 minutes a day. If you consider that many kids spend their time “media multitasking” (using more than one screen at a time), that amount jumps to a total of ten hours and 45 minutes of daily screen time.

What is computer vision syndrome?

Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is being increasingly diagnosed for those of us with 24/7 access to the world of technology. The particular nature of a computer screen and prolonged viewing of it can lead to computer vision syndrome, a temporary but uncomfortable condition that can include the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Eye strain
  • Difficulty focusing the eyes
  • Red or swollen eyes

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that approximately 90% of adults who spend three or more consecutive hours looking at a computer will experience some or all of these symptoms, with headache and eye strain being the most common. With so much work being performed on computers these days, CVS may seem inevitable, but here are nine simple ways to prevent it.

1. Take breaks

Not only is sitting devastatingly bad for your health, but short breaks are actually very good for you in terms of both health and productivity. Every hour, stand, stretch, and take a stroll around the office. Don’t use this time to check your text messages.

2. Move away from the light

Glare from windows makes your eyes work harder to see and is the leading cause of eye strain. If you prefer a desk by the window (and you are lucky enough to have that), use blinds or shades and keep them lowered when you are working. Anti-glare screens are also available and can help reduce glare even further. Make sure you are not facing an unshaded window, as that could cause you to squint and further strain your eyes.

3. Contact lens wearers, blink

When we are focusing on a digital screen, we blink up to three times less than when looking at a book or something else 3-D. Ask your eye doctor about breathable lenses, and keep eye-wetting drops close by. Use them when taking a break.

4. Adjust your monitor height

You should be able to look up and just over the top of your screen. Your monitor or laptop should sit five to nine inches below your horizontal line of vision.

5. Adjust the distance between your eyes and your monitor

Sit back in your chair. If you can touch the screen at this distance, you are sitting too close. To adjust, open a document of a type you would use every day and move back until it becomes blurry. Divide this distance by three, then place your monitor at that distance.

6. Adjust your lighting

In addition to making you look terrible, overhead fluorescent lights are very taxing to the eyes. If you can, use indirect lighting from a desk lamp or floor lighting.

7. Back away from the cell phone

Studies have shown that we hold digital devices much closer to our eyes than we do printed material, and this can cause eye strain and headache. Hold your mobile devices as far away as you can while still being able to read. These devices also have the ability to make print larger, so take advantage of that feature.

8. If you are transcribing or doing research, place paper documents in line with your screen

The movement of looking frequently down and to the side can place strain on the eyes, head, and neck and cause repetitive motion injuries. Take a tip from secretaries in the 50s and invest in a spring-loaded clip that attaches your paper documents to your screen. You can also use a document stand that sits next to your monitor or laptop.

9. Finally, have an annual eye exam

Due to changes in healthcare laws prompted by the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans now include an annual vision exam. Take advantage of this provision and have your vision checked by an eye care professional. Let them know how many hours you spend in front of a screen. If you have any concerns about your eyes, or you have been having symptoms of CVS that include headaches and dizziness, an annual exam is a great time to share them. You are also establishing a relationship with a doctor who can follow changes in your vision over the years, noting if there is anything that might be of concern.

To find out if you might be at risk for CVS, or if you are experiencing headaches or other symptoms, take the Eye Q’s and Views quiz for ways to reduce your chances of screen-related conditions.

Image by Joseph Thornton via Flickr


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