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.