It used to be that only some jobs involved squinting at fine print for most of the day, but now almost all of us spend at least some time peering at a screen – and it isn’t just for work. With the boom in cell phones and smartphones, many of us spend an increasing amount of our waking hours staring at computer screens large and small.
What does that mean for our eyes? The good news is that staring at your computer screen, smartphone, video game or other digital devices for long periods won’t cause permanent eye damage. However, your eyes may feel dry and tired.
Part of the reason is how our eyes are constructed. Normally, humans blink about 18 times a minute. But our rapt attention to digital screens can reduce that. Studies show we blink less often while using computers and other digital screen devices, whether for work or play.
Another factor in weary eyes is the fixed distance to the computer. In the course of normal, non-computer related activity, our eyes are constantly refocusing and adjusting as we look from objects close at hand to a few feet away. But when working on or looking at the computer, our eyes can remain focused on the same distance for extended periods of time. That’s why extended reading, writing or other intensive “near work” can also cause eyestrain.
If you’re concerned about eyestrain from working on the computer, here are a few things you can do to combat dryness or tiredness:
- Sit about 25 inches from the computer screen and position the screen so your eye gaze is slightly downward.
- Reduce glare from the screen by lighting the area properly; use a screen filter if needed.
- Post a note that says “Blink!” on the computer as a reminder.
- Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds (the “20-20-20” rule).
- Use artificial tears to refresh your eyes when they feel dry.
- Take regular breaks from computer work, and try to get enough sleep at night. Just getting up from the computer for a drink of water, conversation or bathroom break will automatically give your eyes a chance to refocus on objects at different distances.
The Impact of 3-D on Vision
With the recent boom in 3-D movies, this technology’s impact on the eyes has gotten renewed attention. Although there are no long-term studies, ophthalmologists (MDs) say there is no reason to be concerned that 3-D movies, TV or video games will damage the eyes or visual system.
Some people, however, complain of headaches or motion sickness when viewing 3-D. This may indicate that the viewer has a problem with focusing or depth perception. Also, the techniques used to create the 3-D effect can confuse or overload the brain, causing some people discomfort even if they have normal vision. Taking a break from viewing usually relieves the discomfort. If discomfort persists, you should see your eye doctor, as the symptoms may be caused by an undiagnosed vision problem.
Just as experiencing discomfort while viewing 3-D films and games can sometimes be a symptom of other problems, eyestrain during computer use can be related to other conditions. If you frequently experience dry or tired eyes while working on the computer, you might want to evaluate sleep habits or contact lens use, which can contribute to computer-related eyestrain.
Sleep Deprivation and Your Eyes
When you get less sleep than you need, your eyes may become irritated. Sleep provides an important opportunity for our eyes to rest for an extended period. It’s also a chance for the eyes to be replenished by nutrients. Ongoing eye irritation can lead to swelling and infection, especially if you wear contact lenses.
What can you do if you aren’t sleeping enough and have to work long hours on the computer?
- If you have to be at your computer for a marathon work session, take regular rest breaks or “power naps,” if possible.
- Apply a washcloth soaked in warm water to tired, dry eyes (with eyes closed).
- Let your eyes be your guide: Tired or sore eyes are probably a signal that it’s time to stop working. And if you’re that weary, you’re probably not working as effectively as you would with some sleep. When your eyes are tired and sore, get up from your desk and get some rest or sleep.
Incorrect Contact-lens Use
If you wear contact lenses, it’s important that you use and care for them properly. This is especially the case if you use a computer and other digital-screen devices often. Proper contact-lens use helps avoid eye irritation, swelling, infection and vision problems.
First of all, it’s important to give your eyes a break: Wear your glasses! If you usually put your contacts in first thing in the morning and take them out before going to bed, you might consider taking them out a few hours early (say, when you get home) and wearing your glasses for a period.
If you’re not in the habit of taking your contacts out before bed, change that. You shouldn’t ever sleep in your contact lenses, even if they are labeled “extended wear.”
Lastly, always use good cleaning practices. While millions of people safely use contact lenses every day, lenses do carry a risk of eye infection. And in extreme cases, some eye infections can lead to blindness or permanent damage.
Here are some important things to keep in mind when cleaning your contact lenses:
- Avoid touching the lenses with water; use fresh solution every time for cleaning and storing.
- Rub your contacts when you clean them, even if you use a no-rub solution.
- Clean your storage case regularly (with fresh solution, not water) and replace it every 2-3 months.
Stop wearing your contact lenses and see an ophthalmologist right away if you develop any of these problems: Eyes that are red, blurry, watery, sensitive to light or sore; eye swelling or discharge.
If you get sufficient rest, properly use contact lenses, and periodically give your eyes a break through the workday, computer use shouldn’t cause significant eyestrain, tiredness or dryness.
For more eye health information, visit www.geteyesmart.org