Dry eyes? Neck and shoulder pain? You're not the only one suffering from computer eye strain.
Around 70% of computer users have eye strain, according to the Optometrists Network. Eye strain symptoms include dry eyes, blurry vision, neck and shoulder pain, and headaches. There’s even a name for screen-related eye strain—computer vision syndrome (CVS).
A major review of this condition notes that having dry eyes is the major contributor to CVS syndrome. More than being unpleasant, prolonged eye strain and dry eyes can affect your eye health and lead to vision loss.
Computers may be a part of everyday life, but eye strain doesn’t have to be. There’s a lot you can do to reduce digital eye strain even if you have to use screens for extended periods every day.
Most strategies for dealing with eye strain require simple workplace adjustments and frequent rest. These alone can help relieve symptoms.
Here's how to reduce computer eye strain. You can apply many of these tips to other types of devices as well including smartphones, tablets, and e-readers.
1. Follow the 20-20-20 Rule
After using the computer for 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Look out the window if there’s one within range.
If you’re in a large office, look at a plant or another distant object. This rule promoted by the American Optometric Association (AOA) helps to relieve the strain that comes with continuously focusing your eyes close up at a screen.
If office design makes it difficult to follow this rule, you can simply close your eyes to rest them. We also have plenty more useful tips below you can put into practice in any setting.
2. Blink More Often
While using a computer or staring at a screen, you may forget to blink. Normally, we blink around 15 times every minute. But according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, when we use a screen, we blink only 5 to 7 times.
The problem with infrequent blinking is that it contributes to dry eyes, which we’ve seen can cause eye strain. You need to blink for the surface of the eye to replenish its moisture.
To make sure you don’t forget to blink, write a post-it note and stick it on your desk or where you’ll see it.
3. Take Rest Breaks Regularly
The 20-20-20 rule is a good start, but your eyes need a bit more rest if you use a screen for several hours at a time.
The AOA recommends resting your eyes for at least 15 minutes for every two hours of computer use. Use this time to do anything that doesn’t require your eyes to focus on things up close.
Drink some water, make phone calls, talk with coworkers, or do some simple exercises like squats or standing leg raises. Even short breaks count, so make the most of them—don’t just use them to check social media notifications.
Good to know: Drinking water during screen breaks is especially important as dehydration can cause dry eyes.
4. Adjust Screen Positioning and Angle
Keep the screen 20 to 30 inches away from your eyes (that’s about an arm’s length), and 4 to 8 inches below eye level, using the center of the screen as the reference point.
This setup is recommended for computer vision syndrome (CVS) and can help make your time spent in front of a screen more comfortable.
If your eyes gaze slightly down at the screen rather than up or straight, you should feel less eye strain when using the screen for extended periods.
5. Cut Back the Glare
Most screens have glare that can add further strain to your eyes, especially when they reflect other light sources. Glare is one of the downsides of having a bright screen with vivid colors.
You can reduce glare by changing your position, such as not having a bright window shine right on the screen. You can also use an anti-glare or matte screen filter—make sure it fits your device. You can find these online.
6. Wear Computer Eyeglasses
Another effective way to reduce eye strain is to use computer glasses. These glasses make it easier for your eyes to focus on the screen. Some may also have anti-glare and blue-light filters.
Unlike blue light eyeglasses, computer eyeglasses require a prescription so talk you your doctor about them.
7. Use a Blue Light Filter
Screens emit blue light, which you may have heard can affect sleep. It does this by suppressing the secretion of melatonin and tricking your circadian rhythm, the body’s biological clock. According to AOA, blue light may also affect vision over time.
Most devices today have either built-in blue light filters or allow you to install apps that add a different tint to your screen. Set that up if you’re using screens in the evening and at night. Look also for blue light filters for your computer eyeglasses or anti-glare protection screens.
8. Adjust Brightness and Contrast
The screen shouldn’t be much brighter than the level of light in the room. Ideally, these two should match. When the screen glows brighter than the surroundings, it puts strain on your eyes.
If you’ve ever used a screen in a darkened room for more than a few minutes, you know how tired your eyes can feel after.
The right contrast setting can also help. To lower eye strain, increase the contrast through the display settings. Contrast is especially important at night. Some apps and operating systems have a night mode that darkens the interface automatically based on the hour of the day.
9. Use a Cool-Air Humidifier
Using a screen for hours in a dry environment can lead to dry eyes, which in turn will increase the strain on your eyes. Air conditioning systems often promote this type of environment.
Consider using a cool-air humidifier. Even a small, portable cool-air humidifier you can plug into your computer can make a difference.
10. Adjust Your Work Area
Do you have to check documents or references as you work on your computer? Place these below the monitor and above the keyboard. Or use a book or document holder.
This way, you’ll reduce the extra eye strain that comes with having to constantly switch focus. It will also reduce the movements of the head, encouraging a healthy posture.
Talking of posture, if you’re sitting at a desk often, make sure to keep your back and chin straight, elbows on the arms of the chair or on the desk, and legs on the floor.
A bad posture can contribute to eye strain and lead to spine, wrist, neck, and shoulder problems. Consider also switching to an upright desk if possible as that encourages a healthier posture.
Take the Dry Eye Test
Dry eyes can lead to eye strain and other eye conditions. Signs and symptoms are easy to ignore. But neglecting dry eyes can make eye strain worse over time and affect your everyday life.
Do your eyes feel strained, tired, or sore after working on the computer? Take a break for at least a few minutes. Then get your eyes tested.