Useful tips on relieving and preventing computer eye strain and CVS
A lot of computer users don't consider any side-effects of prolonged computer usage.
Computer eye strain, also known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) or Digital Eye Strain (DES), is a broad term used to classify several symptoms people exhibit after viewing computer monitors, televisions, tablets, and even mobile phones for extended periods of time. Here, you’ll learn more about why it happens, the symptoms, and what you can do to put a stop to it.
Simply put, this condition is the direct result of looking at a screen for an extended period. Per limited research, the amount of discomfort people experience is directly correlated with the time they spend using digital screens.
Studies have suggested that the average person spends about seven hours per day using a computer, and this doesn’t take time spent watching TV or using a mobile phone into consideration. Many of these people rarely take breaks from their screens, which results in eye strain that develops gradually over time. In fact, research has also shown that up to 90% of adults regularly display at least some symptoms of CVS.
When you use a computer, watch television, or pick up a mobile device, your eyes must focus and refocus quite often, even if they never leave the screen. If you use your arms over and over in the same way for several hours, they’ll feel tired and strained. The same can be said of the muscles in your eyes; all that constant focusing and refocusing causes significant strain, even if you can’t feel it right away.
To make things even worse, screens aren’t like books or magazines. Your eyes must also deal with flicker, contrast, glare, and other obstacles that are only present in these technologies. If you already have eye problems, including near- or far-sightedness, or if you’re over the age of 40, you’re even more susceptible.
While anyone of any age is susceptible to computer eye strain, there are some risk factors that may increase those chances, or that may lead to more severe symptoms. These include:
Those who work at computers are far more likely to experience the symptoms of computer eye strain than those who work in other environments.
If your computer or television screen is exposed to glare, your odds of developing eye strain increase.
Once you turn 40, your eyes are no longer able to focus and refocus as easily as they once did. As a result, you are more likely to experience the symptoms of CVS.
There is some evidence to suggest that people who have existing eye problems, which range from near- or far-sightedness to glaucoma and even astigmatism, are at an increased risk for developing computer eye strain.
Because research on CVS is still quite limited, there’s no evidence that suggests using a computer or other digital screen can cause long-term eye problems. However, even short-term computer eye strain can come with a host of symptoms, which may include the following:
Keep in mind that while these symptoms are most commonly associated with CVS, they can also be symptoms of more serious problems. If you experience any of these symptoms and they do not go away after taking a few hours away from screens, you should make an appointment with your primary care doctor or eye doctor.
While you can see your primary care physician for problems related to your eyes, there’s a good chance that you’ll be referred to your eye doctor for the diagnosis. An eye doctor will use a few simple tests along with a basic history to reach this diagnosis.
The recommended treatments for CVS will vary somewhat depending on the severity of the symptoms and your overall discomfort. In all cases, eye doctors will recommend taking some time away from screens, at least until the symptoms resolve. Other options include:
While there are a few ways to treat computer eye strain once it occurs, prevention is always the best medicine. When it comes to CVS, the good news is that it’s completely preventable. In fact, there are several helpful hints and tricks to help you use your digital screens safely and without strain.
Optometrists recommend that adults have their eyes examined at least once per year. Those who have certain eye conditions such as glaucoma, astigmatism, or macular degeneration may need exams more often. Aside from simply checking your eyes, your eye doctor will assess your overall health as it relates to your eyes. The optometrist will perform a variety of tests to diagnose and treat several medical conditions.
A regulation passed in 1992 states that if you work in an environment where you must use a computer, your employer is obligated to pay for an annual exam at your request. If you work at a computer, or if you spend several hours per day at a computer for other reasons, make sure you bring this to your optometrist’s attention. Before your appointment, measure the distance between your eyes and your screen; your eye doctor will test your eyes at this particular distance to check for strain, visual acuity, and more.
Glare is one of the most common causes of eye strain, but the good news is that it’s possible to reduce or even eliminate glare altogether. Glare occurs when light reflects on the surface of a screen, and this may cause you to squint or move your head forward to see what’s behind the streak.
To minimize or eliminate glare, you can simply close your blinds, move your monitor to another location, and even place a light source behind your screen rather than in front of it. These days, many monitor manufacturers offer anti-glare technology, and you can even purchase a glare filter for your monitor.
Older cathode ray tube monitors (commonly known as tube monitors) do not have settings or features designed to protect your eyes in any way. The low refresh rate, low resolution, and glossy screen can do more harm than good. What’s more, older tube monitors have a very detectible flicker which is one of the leading causes of eye strain.
Newer high-definition LCD flat panel monitors address these issues along with others. They have higher refresh rates – often 75Hz or more, and they usually come with anti-glare matte screens designed to minimize the reflection of light. LCD monitors also have a lower dot pitch, which means it’ll produce a much sharper image.
To make sure you’ve selected the best possible monitor, look for all the following:
In most cases, eye strain is caused (at least partially) by light coming from windows or indoor light sources, such as lamps and overhead fluorescent lighting. Often, these light sources are very bright, which only exacerbates glare. One of the best ways to minimize eye strain, then, is to install the proper lighting. If this isn’t possible, consider asking to reduce the amount of lighting being used in your office.
Research shows that computer eye strain can be reduced significantly by simply turning off overhead fluorescent lights and using other sources of ambient light instead. In fact, that ambient light should be at about half the brightness of the typical office lighting setup. Close curtains and blinds, when possible, and consider using light bulbs that produce less blue light, as this is harder on the eyes than any other type of light. Full spectrum bulbs are a great choice for office and computer environments.
If you wear glasses or contacts, you may be a great candidate for computer eye wear prescribed by your optometrist. These glasses are specifically designed to help minimize eye strain and ensure better overall eye health, even after working long hours at a computer. These eyeglasses are best when combined with bifocals or progressive lenses because they will allow you to view both your computer screen and things at a distance optimally, without having to remove your glasses.
Contact lens wearers should use extra precautions when working at a computer, as well. Research has proven that users blink 66% less than others, which can quickly lead to dry eyes and discomfort. If you wear contact lenses, make sure to moisturize them with eye drops meant for contact wearers frequently throughout the day. Better yet, consider swapping out your contact lenses for computer eyeglasses while you work.
Constantly moving your eyes from your screen back to a piece of paper or book, or from one monitor to another, can worsen eye strain. To combat this, make sure your monitor is just slightly below eye level and about two feet from your face. Place books, papers, or other reference materials on a stand at the same height as your monitor to reduce movement. When you aren’t looking up and down every few seconds, you can give your eyes a rest.
The 20-20-20 rule is a simple guideline that says you should look at least 20 feet away from your computer every 20 minutes for at least 20 seconds. This act of taking your eyes away from the screen at regular intervals can help reduce your odds of developing eye strain.
Another common cause of eye strain and CVS is focusing fatigue. This occurs when you remain focused on the same object at the same distance for a long period of time. Every 20 minutes, look away from your computer at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This is known as the 20-20-20 rule, and it can help you reduce the risk of developing eye strain or CVS.
When you actively change your focus at regular intervals, you’re exercising the muscles that your eyes use to focus on objects. Just like the other muscles in your body, keeping them in shape is the best way to ensure their health and proper function. In fact, regular exercise for your eyes can prevent a common condition known as accommodative spasm, which is a term used to describe an inability to focus at other distances after staring at a computer screen for long periods.
Because you blink 66% less when working at a computer, it’s always a good idea to actively remind yourself to blink more often while you work. While it can be difficult at times, and while staying focused on blinking may actually take some attention away from your work, this isn’t permanent. With just a few days’ practice, you can train your eyes to blink more frequently at the subconscious level; you will no longer need to actively think about it.
There are a couple of ways to train yourself to blink more often behind a computer. One of the best involves incorporating blinking into the 20-20-20 rule. During the 20 seconds you’re looking at least 20 feet away from your screen, actively remind yourself to blink frequently. You might also consider putting a sticky note on your screen that simply says “Blink!” A subtle reminder may be all you need to retrain your eyes to blink more frequently.
Most screens come with at least some settings you can change to reduce eye strain, and newer ones, including tablets and mobile devices, have some advanced settings that can help quite a bit. You can start with the basics, which may include everything from font size to brightness and contrast, and then move on. Some monitors have anti-glare settings built right in, and many devices have settings that allow you to filter out blue light, which is thought to increase eye strain.
Computer eye strain, or CVS, is a very common problem. Those who experience it may notice only very mild symptoms that resolve on their own after taking some time away from the screen, or they may experience symptoms on the severe end of the spectrum that require significant treatments and therapies to resolve. It’s important to see your eye doctor regularly and discuss any symptoms you may be experiencing. This can help you prevent eye strain altogether, or at the very least, minimize the progression of your symptoms.