Eyestrain and computer use — signs and symptoms of eyestrain and ways to find relief.
Your eyes hurt. Your head aches. And there you sit, peering at your computer monitor. If you're one of the many people who use computers every day — either for work or personal use — you may experience eyestrain as a result.
Eyestrain: Signs and symptoms
Common signs and symptoms include:
- Sore, tired, burning or itching eyes
- Watery eyes
- Dry eyes
- Blurred or double vision
- Headache and sore neck
- Difficulty shifting focus between monitor and paper documents in your work area
- Color fringes or afterimages when you look away from the monitor
- Increased sensitivity to light
Eyestrain associated with computer use isn't thought to have serious or long-term consequences, but it's disruptive and unpleasant. Though you may not be able to change the nature of your job or all the factors that can cause eyestrain, you can take steps to reduce the strain.
New habits can help relieve eyestrain
A few simple adjustments in how you work or surf the Internet can give your eyes a much-needed rest.
Follow these simple tips to reduce eyestrain:
- Take eye breaks. Throughout the day, give your eyes a break by forcing them to focus on something other than on your screen. Try the following exercise: Hold a finger a few inches in front of your face; focus on the finger as you slowly move it away; focus on something far in the distance and then back to the finger; slowly bring the finger back toward your face. Next, shift your focus to something farther than eight feet away and hold your eyes there for a few seconds. Repeat this exercise three times, several times a day.
- Change the pace. Try to stand up and move around at least once every hour or so. If possible, lean back and close your eyes for a few moments. At the very least, try to give yourself a five-minute rest every hour. Do other work, such as phone calls or filing, during this time.
- Blink often to refresh your eyes. Because many people blink less than normal when working at a computer, dry eyes can result from prolonged computer use. Blinking produces tears that can help moisten and lubricate your eyes. Make a conscious effort to blink more often.
- Consider using artificial teardrops. Available over the counter, artificial tears can help relieve dry eyes that result from prolonged sessions at the computer.
- Practice relaxation. Ease muscle tension with this relaxation exercise: Place your elbows on your desk, palms facing up; let your weight fall forward and your head fall into your hands; position your head so that your eyebrows rest on the base of your palms, with your fingers extended toward your forehead; close your eyes and take a deep breath through your nose; hold it for four seconds, then exhale. Continue this deep breathing for 15 to 30 seconds. Perform this simple exercise several times a day.
- Get appropriate eyewear. If you wear glasses or contacts, make sure the correction is right for computer work. Most lenses are fitted for reading print and may not be optimal for computer work. Glasses or contact lenses designed specifically for computer work may be a worthwhile investment.
Put your workstation in order
Take some of the strain off your eyes by making sure your desk space is set up in an appropriate and eye-friendly way.
Adjust your monitor. Position your monitor directly in front of you about 20 to 28 inches from your eyes. Many people find that putting the screen at arm's length is about right. If you need to get too close to read small type, consider increasing the font size.
Keep the top of your screen at eye level or below so that you look down slightly at your work. If it's too high or too low, it can lead to a sore neck. If you have your monitor on top of your central processing unit (CPU), consider placing the CPU to the side or on the floor. And if you wear bifocals or trifocals, keep in mind that you may have a tendency to tilt your head backwards so that you can see through the lower portion of your glasses. To adjust for this, consider lowering your monitor a few inches or buying glasses designed for computer work.
- Position your keyboard properly. Place your keyboard directly in front of your monitor. If you place it at an angle or to the side, your eyes have to focus at different distances from the screen, a tiring activity.
- Keep reference materials nearby. Place reading and reference material on a document holder beside your monitor and at the same level, angle and distance from your eyes as the monitor is from your eyes. This way your eyes aren't constantly readjusting.
Check the lighting and reduce glare. Bright lighting and too much glare can make it difficult to see objects on your screen and strain your eyes. To check glare, sit at your computer with the monitor off. This allows you to see the reflected light and images. Note any intense glare. The worst problems are generally from sources above or behind you, including fluorescent lighting and sunlight.
If possible, place your monitor so that the brightest light sources are off to the side, at a right angle to your monitor. Consider turning off some or all of the overhead lights. If you need light for writing or reading, use an adjustable desk lamp. Close blinds and shades and avoid placing your monitor directly in front of a window or white wall. Use a glare-reducing screen to minimize glare from overhead lighting. Finally, adjust the contrast and brightness on the monitor to a level that's comfortable for you, making sure the letters on the screen are easy to read.
Also wipe the dust from your computer screen regularly. Dust on the screen cuts down on contrast and may contribute to glare and reflection problems.
If problems still persist, it could be a sign of a more serious problem. See your doctor if you have:
- Prolonged eye discomfort
- A noticeable change in vision
- Double vision
But if you're like most people, making a few simple adjustments can help keep your eyes rested and ready.
Last Updated: 07/12/2006