Wednesday, April 13, 2011

5 Ways to Eliminate Computer Eye-Strain

by Lori Cline

Let me just say that I am one of the biggest offenders when it comes to taking care of my 'computer' eyes. I am on the computer a lot and forget to take breaks - well, I just don't care about them. I find myself squinting and adjusting the monitor because all of a sudden it's too dark or too light.

Lately my eyes have started tearing up, but I am not chopping onions. On top of that, I find I am developing a hunched back (not really an attractive look for me) from leaning into the monitor too far.

I am tired of having red, watery eyes and rubbing them like a small child that needs a nap. And I think it's time for a change.

Let's look into computer eyestrain.

Signs that your eyes have had it from being on the computer too long :

1. Symptom : Blurred vision, red eyes.

To get rid of it, you: Blink and rub your eyes gently. Blink and rub. Blink and rub. Get back on the computer. Blink and rub. Blink and rub.

2. Symptom: Flickering lights.

To get rid of them, you: Close your eyes to get rid of them but see them anyway. Open your eyes and they are still there. Close your eyes and they are still there. Open your eyes and get back on the computer.

3. Symptom: Migraine or a bad headache.

To get rid of it, you: Begin to massage your temples on both sides of your face. Get up, shut the drapes, and turn off the lights. Get back on the computer.

4. Symptom: Increased fatigue.

To get rid of it, you: Put your feet up, put your head back, close your eyes, and nap for a whole 15 minutes. Get back on the computer.

5. Symptom: Badly stiff shoulders; an incredibly painful neck that does not allow you to move your head from side to side.

To get rid of it, you: Do nothing. Who has to turn their head from side to side? The computer screen is right in front of me.

A few things to think about...

Too much computer eyestrain may cause future blindness.

Yes, it's true. Studies have shown that if you are on the computer for more than 3 hours a day for up to five years, your eyes will slowly begin to go blind, leading you to spend thousands of dollars on software that will help you perform routine computer tasks...Aw, I can't go on any longer. I was just kidding. In fact, you can use your computer as much as you want and there are no long-term effects (unless it's hereditary). The only problems you have or will have are the symptoms of the eyestrain you're currently experiencing. Whew. Nice to know.

Consequences and Remedies

Nowadays there is a syndrome for everything, and computer eyestrain is no exception. Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is apparently a "very real problem" for those of us who sit twenty-three hours a day looking at a computer screen. Focusing problems - whether it's because you're having trouble focusing between looking up and down from the keyboard to the monitor or you're having trouble focusing because your eyes are kind of getting too old to do it - can indicate CVS. Sometimes simply rearranging how you sit, where you sit, and what the lighting is like will help CVS.

If you spend more than 2 hours a day in front of the computer, then you probably experience some CVS. (More than two hours? Is there terminal CVS? If there is, I have it.)

CVS can include some or all of the below symptoms:

Loss of focus
Burning eyes
Tired eyes
Double vision
Blurred vision
Neck and shoulder pain

There is now computer eyewear specifically designed for your comfort while at the computer, and apparently is the way to go if you are having extreme problems with eyestrain. (I have not tried them yet, but I have read great things about them). Don't mistake them for simple reading glasses either; it's important to note that there is a real distinction between computer glasses and simple reading glasses.


Computer glasses (or digital performance eyewear) are designed to help you to focus better and have a clearer view of what's on the screen. After all, your screen is farther away than a book you're going to read, right? Then specific adjustments should be made, and that's what computer glasses do. There are different types of them, like Monofocal, bifocal, trifocal, and progressive addition glasses. Again, these are not like the glasses you are wearing now. (I read that having regular bifocals is one of the worst things for computer eyestrain. Well, I have regular bifocals. You'd think my eyes would have fallen out by now.) If you decide that this is something you might be interested in, don't go buying from one of those online stores ("Computer glasses: $7.95 for two pairs, free shipping, and a lifetime warranty!"); talk to your optometrist or your ophthalmologist first about details on where and what to buy and what the computer eyewear (good) hoopla is all about.

Top Five Tips to Lessen Computer Eyestrain

Okay, enough. So we're all computer-holics that have suddenly seen the light (no pun intended) and need help to make our eyes more comfortable so that we can keep up our computer addiction with as little pain as possible. What to do...


1. Get a good eye examination

Ho-hum. You thought I'd start out with some eye-saving epiphany, didn't you ?

Sorry, this is just a reminder and some good advice : Go get your eyes checked well. And make it at least an annual routine from a good optometrist. Routine eye exams can find any vision problems you may have, and can even help with general health problems before you are aware a problem exists. A good eye exam can help you with a lot of things, like blurred vision or trouble focusing. Any time you can get that kind of stuff cleared up, it's a big relief, and it goes without saying that you end up feeling better, as well.

Of course, an optometrist can also help you with anything associated to computer eyestrain, and will work with you on a course of action beneficial to you and any eyestrain you may have. (Ya think?)

2. Take frequent breaks. Rest your eyes.

Yeah, right. The other day I downloaded a program that pops up at whatever time interval you want it to and reminds you to take a quick break to stand up and stretch, or whatever. I set it to pop up every hour. I turned it off every time it popped up.

In addition to not even taking breaks, I set the time wrong. Never go an hour between breaks. Take short 1-2 minute stretch breaks every 20-30 minutes. After you have worked an hour or so, try changing whatever task you may be doing.

Eye fatigue is a real problem for me. You can avoid eye fatigue by resting and refocusing your eyes from time to time. Look away from the monitor and focus on something farther away. Rest your eyes by covering them with the palms of your hands for 10-15 seconds.

Again (I can't stress it enough), breaks are so important; please do-as-I-suggest and not-as-I-do. And when you take a break, stand up, step away from the computer - I repeat - step away from the computer! - and stretch your arms, your legs, your back, and your neck. Research what kinds of exercises might be good to perform on your breaks. Don't bother with the library; there's a computer right in front of you.

Watch your posture. Do some exercises. Sit up straight.

I sound like my mother. Seriously, though, the whole problem really begins because you forget how long you've been sitting there, so while you may even start out with good posture, you may end up dropping and compensating in different ways to give something (your neck, your shoulders) a break, and you aren't even aware of it.

To alleviate that, really try and remember to do things like these:

Sit so your head and neck are upright; don't slouch. (There's my mother again.)

Face your computer screen directly. Don't look at your screen with your head turned or your body facing one way while you face the monitor (like I am doing right now).

Keep your mouse close to your keyboard so you don't have to reach for it.

Monitor positioning tips:

Have your monitor positioned so that you can comfortably read text on the screen without leaning forward.

Position your monitor so the top of the screen is at or slightly below eye level. This will allow you to view the screen without bending your neck.

Adjust the position of your display to prevent reflections of overhead and outdoor lighting appearing on your screen. (Hah! I refer to that in the next tip! That's one down that I don't have to remember. I hope there are a lot more, but I really kind of doubt it.)

The bottom line is this: Give your eyes a rest, and your body along with it. It would be nice to get up from your computer without groaning, wouldn't it? Or maybe that only applies to me...

3. Check your lighting.

A friend of mine does all of his computer work with as much light as possible in the room; he has the blinds up with the lights on every day. Hmm. I guess that's a no-no. One of the top causes of computer eyestrain is excessive light or not enough light while at the computer. If you can, try and position your monitor so that the windows in the room are to the side of it, instead of in front or back. Get rid of the exterior light by closing your drapes or your blinds and cut down on interior lighting by using fewer light bulbs or less-intense ones.

Personally, I have found that no matter how the lighting is wherever I am, tilting my monitor down cuts down on the glare and makes me less dizzy. Just an FYI.

4. Blink more often.

As if I can help it. Blinking is important because it rewets your eyes to prevent dryness and irritation. If you have really dry eyes, talk to your eye doctor about "artificial tears" that you can use during the day. When you go to get eye drops, don't think that the ones that "get the red out" are necessarily the way to go. They whiten your eyes and make them look good but they don't always have the ingredients to lubricate your eyes and make them less irritated.

5. Adjust your monitor settings (if necessary).

When you set up your computer, the settings were already adjusted for you based on the type of monitor you have. If you are having trouble with eyestrain, your monitor settings may be part of the problem.

Probably the best first step in determining how you want to view your monitor is to adjust your screen resolution. Your screen resolution is what your monitor uses to determine how much information you are going to see on your computer screen and it uses to pixels to measure it. A pixel is the smallest unit of picture that can be controlled. If your monitor is using an 800 x 600 (pixels) screen resolution, there are fewer things on the screen, but they are larger. If you have your screen resolution set to 1440 x 900 (pixels) then you will get a lot more information on the screen, but anything on the screen will be much smaller. Read your monitor manual for more information; most of them can help you decided what's best.

Another thing that really affects eyestrain is the flicker rate of your monitor. A flickering monitor can cause headaches and eyestrain. Reduce or eliminate flickering by increasing the refresh rate. I used to get migraines on one of the monitors I used to have and when I checked it and saw that it was 60 hertz, I upped it to 75 hertz (the recommended refresh rate) and my migraines went almost completely away. The higher your screen resolution, the higher your refresh rate should be.


Obviously a huge consideration for eyestrain contributors is the viewing of text on your screen. ClearType by Microsoft improves font visibility greatly. It was introduced with Windows XP and turned off by default. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, it is enabled by default, and personally I am grateful for that. It makes a big difference in the way I can view my monitor, and I had no idea that it even existed until I started using Vista. It would have been great to know that it was available when I was using WinXP. Good ole Microsoft.

I was working on a web site once and decided it was going to be beautiful and very pleasing to the eyes. I researched tons of different color combinations, and it ended up being probably the most enticing web site I had done. I was really proud of it until I realized that reading anything on it really hurt your eyes after a while. Bummer.

For reading on a website, black print on a white screen is the best for your eyes. Anytime you have dark text on a light background your eyestrain is definitely going to be a lot less. If you read text on a busy background, your eyes will tire quickly. In regards to text size, research has suggested that your text size should be three times the smallest text size you can read from your normal viewing position; adjust your monitor and see how it works.

There you go. A kind of mini-guide to help lessen your discomfort when it comes to your eyes and the amount of time spent on your computer. Only you know the severity of your eyestrain, and only you can take the steps necessary to reduce it. Once you start letting your eyes take a break, you'll find that not only do your eyes feel better, but your body actually does, too.

As for me, all I can say is that I will try. I mean, really! It all sounds really good. I told you in the beginning that it was time for a change - that my red eyes and my tense neck and my sore back are all getting really tired of this (no pun intended). I am really going to work on these things, if only because comfort would be nice for a change. The thing is - you have to do most of these things while you are at the computer, and who wants to give up browsing for that?

Then again, I guess that's the whole point.

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