Protect Your Eyes from Computer Vision Syndrome

During Workplace Eye Health and Safety Month, be aware of how your screen is affecting your eyes

If your profession requires a lot of time in front of a computer—for example if you’re a Medical Billing and Coding Specialist or a Graphic Designer (or studying to be one), then your eyes are one of your greatest assets. It’s essential that you take care of them. We don’t usually think of our eyes when we think about our health, but in March you should raise your eye awareness. It’s Workplace Eye Health and Safety Month: time to think about how you use your eyes at work and how to protect them.

What’s at stake with your eyes

There are thousands of Americans who suffer eye-related work injuries every day, and about a third are severe enough that the worker must go to the emergency room. According to the nonprofit Prevent Blindness, up to 1/5th of work-related injuries will lead to a permanent loss of vision.

Depending on what kind of work you do, you could be exposing your eyes to small particles of wood or metal, or dangerous liquids. Even cleaning products can cause major eye damage if you get any in your eyes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the majority of eye injuries are preventable with the proper protection: safety glasses, goggles, helmets, or face shields. If you work in healthcare, avoid touching your eyes and wash your hands frequently, since infectious diseases can spread via the mucus membrane of the eye.

More common eye problems

Do computer screens hurt your eyes? If you work in an office, then your eye problems are more likely to be from sitting in front of a computer, which the average worker does for 7 hours a day. Of all the eye problems people go to their doctor about, 1 in 6 is the result of computer screen use. If you’re doing computer work for 8 hours (or longer), take precautions to support your eyes, especially because today so many of us stare at other screens even when we take a break.

Too much screen time leads to computer vision syndrome (also called digital eyestrain). This can cause eye and vision problems, because when you stare at a screen for long periods of time, you blink less frequently, and this prevents your eyes from staying adequately lubricated. Digital eye strain follows a simple rule: the more time you spend looking at screens, the worse the problems are.

Why a screen is harder on your eyes

  • Looking at text on a digital screen is not the same as reading words on a printed page. Usually the letters are not as sharply defined on a screen, and there is less contrast between the type and the background.
  • Reflections and glare on the computer screen can require your eyes to work harder.
  • The distance between your eyes and the screen tends to be different than how far away you would hold a book or other printed material. This makes more demands on your eyes in terms of movement and focusing.
  • A minor vision problem can have a huge impact on how comfortable you are looking at a screen.
  • Prescription lenses—either contacts or eyeglasses—may be fine for reading up close, but might not be adequate for reading on a computer screen that is further away.

How to tell if you’re suffering from computer vision syndrome

If you’re spending hours staring at your screen and not taking breaks, you might notice you suffer from:

  • headaches
  • difficulty focusing
  • blurred vision—even after you are no longer looking at the screen
  • neck or back pain, usually as a result of bending toward the screen to see more clearly
  • dry eyes (burning and stinging, scratchy or irritated feeling, especially if you wear contact lenses)
  • watering eyes

If these symptoms sound familiar, then it’s time to take your eye care more seriously.

Steps to protect your eyes

Follow these suggestions to avoid digital eyestrain while you’re busy during those long work days in front of the computer:

1. Adjust your equipment

  • Change your monitor height so it’s at eye level. This will support your eyes from having to work that much harder during long stretches. If you’re on a laptop, prop it up on a stand and use an auxiliary keyboard and mouse that are at desk height.
  • Maintain a distance of 30 inches between your eyes and the screen—that’s about twice the length of your forearm. This distance keeps your eyes from having to strain, and keeps the level of light the screen emits from being too intense.
  • Tilt your screen so it’s at a right angle and away from any direct light sources.
  • Choose a monitor with an anti-glare screen if you are getting new equipment. This makes working at the computer gentler on your eyes.

2. Develop some new vision habits

  • Use the 20-20-20 rule. This is an easy way to remember to give your eyes a chance to refocus and rest at regular intervals: take a break every 20 minutes from looking at your screen, and then focus on an object that’s at least 20 feet away for a minimum of 20 seconds. Over an hour of computer work you should do this three times.
  • Blink often—as often as you think of it. This natural hydration of your eyes is essential.

3. Stay hydrated—inside and out

  • Keep artificial tears at your desk. Use these over-the-counter eye drops to prevent your eyes from drying out. After a few drops your eyes are probably more comfortable.
  • Drink plenty of water. This is a good tip for all kinds of health reasons, but we don’t usually think of our eyes when we’re thirsty. During the winter months, be sure to keep that water bottle nearby all day, since the air can be especially dry.

4. Focus on your nutrition

  • Eat a diet that’s heavy on antioxidants to help you produce more tears. This can include leafy greens (spinach, collared greens, and kale) as well as blueberries, grapefruit, and strawberries.
  • Take Omega-3 fish oil supplements, or eat plenty of salmon and other cold-water fish that are rich in this compound, such as sardines, herring, flounder, tuna, and halibut.
  • You can even take an eye vitamin has both antioxidants and Omega-3s.

5. See an eye care professional

  • Schedule comprehensive eye exams regularly. It’s essential to have a regular eye exam with a licensed ophthalmologist—especially if you have concerns about your vision or experience any symptoms. But even if you don’t, try to go once a year.
  • Make an appointment right away if you notice any changes in your eyesight. Leaving vision problems uncorrected while you do computer-based work can lead to worsening of symptoms.

Now that you have a heightened awareness of the risks your workplace computer use can pose to your eyes, we hope that you’ll step up your precautions. Since you rely on your eyes all day every day, you want to take excellent care of them—this month and every month. So give your eyes a rest, and don’t forget to blink!

This article is part of the Branford Hall weekly blog. We care about the health and wellness of all our students. Find out more about the several professional training programs we offer at ten campuses in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. Reach out to us for more information today, or call (800)-959-7599 and schedule a visit.