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How to Avoid Computer Eye Strain and Keep Your Eyes Healthy

Photo by ginnerobot

Does eyestrain keep you from doing your work on the computer? Take preventative measures to avoid eyestrain—and get your work done. Organize a functional workspace, modulate light exposure, and keep your eyes healthy overall.

The Basics of Eye Strain

Eyestrain is a symptom that manifests when you over-exert your eyes over an extended period of time, through activities such as reading or viewing an electronically-lit screen.

Eyestrain may include one or a combination of the following:

  • Pain and tension around the eyes and/or temples (which can spread to the head, neck and back)
  • Eye dryness and/or redness
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Headache
  • Difficulty performing visual tasks
  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision

Eyestrain isn’t known to lead to permanent damage of the visual system, but it can keep you from doing your work. The causes of eyestrain vary for each individual, and may change for an individual over time. The three main types of causes are: inadequate workspace set-up, inefficient lighting, and lack of proper eye care. Let’s look at how to address all three to avoid eyestrain.

Modify Your Work Habits

Photo by Chloe Dietz

Eyestrain may cause you a lot of strife, through painful headaches and blurred vision. But you can fix eyestrain in a straightforward way, by modifying your work habits.

Enlarge text: Your eyes have to strain to read small text, so keep text large to give your eyes a break. When working in text editors or viewing online materials, use the keyboard shortcut to magnify text (ctrl + “+”) as needed. For those webpage text areas that tend to be too cramped — pull them over to your favorite text editor to have more space. Always magnify to a size that feels comfortable. If you have to move your head closer to the screen, squint, or don’t feel relaxed while reading — the text is still too small. And while you’re at it, make sure your screen resolution is set high.

Read offline: Intense reading on a computer monitor isn’t ideal for productivity because eventually your eyes will tire out. When you come across a long article or document, print it out (in large-enough print of course). Then read it at your own pace and in the right lighting. Another way to minimize online reading is by scanning and web surfing with purpose.

Work in spurts: Your computer is set up for virtually nonstop work — but you aren’t a machine. You need to take breaks to recharge, and so do your eyes. The 20-20 rule is easy to remember: every 20 minutes take a 20-second break. This means that you pull your eyes away from the computer and stare off into space or an object that’s approximately 20 feet away from you. If you work in an office and don’t want to look like you’re spacing out, take frequent but brief trips to the water water cooler or restroom to give your eyes a break. (If you go to restroom, don’t look directly at the fluorescent lights overhead because they will only cause more strain.)

Re-position your monitor: When you stare at your computer monitor, you naturally blink less often. So your eyes don’t get naturally lubricated as often. This leads to eye dryness and redness. To reduce this effect, position your monitor below eye-level. That way your eyes won’t have to be as open (and exposed) in order for you to see. Frequent breaks will also help out. While on break, try not to concentrate too hard on your work because this might keep you from blinking as you normally do in a relaxed state.

Relax: Work is important, but you need to be relaxed enough so that tension and stress don’t get in the way. Take frequent short breaks during the day, and longer breaks one to two times a day so that you can get your mind off work. Walks are good because give you exercise, fresh air, and help you look off into farther distances. At your desk you can do neck rolls, shoulder shrugs and arm swings to stretch out your neck and shoulders. Rub your temples to release any head tension. Give your eyes periods of darkness for rest, by closing your eyes or cupping your palms over your eyes (preferably in a quiet environment).

Pay Attention to Lighting

Photo by jemsweb

Inadequate lighting is another major cause for eyestrain. Too much lighting overexposes and irritates the eye. Too little lighting causes the eye to strain in order to see. There are several ways to adjust the lighting in your environment to find what works best for you.

Adjust monitor brightness and contrast settings: Go to your monitor settings and decrease the brightness and contrast until you find the balance that’s easiest on your eyes. You’d be surprised how bright and contrasted the default settings are. Make sure that your desktop and color scheme aren’t agitating your eyes either. Opt for neutral and darker-colored tones with minimal contrast until you find the right color balance. Additionally, pay attention to the brightness and contrast levels of different web pages and documents. If you’re having trouble reading a page of gray text on a black background, print it out instead or at least copy and paste into a new document with dark text on a white background.


Adjust other lights in the room:
Even if your monitor and desktop settings are set for optimal use, light from your surroundings can irritate your eyes. If the room is too dark, that can affect the overall brightness of the monitor. If the room is too bright, it can create a glare on your monitor. Avoid glare that goes directly into your eyes — this occurs when you’re facing an uncovered window. Avoid glare come from a light source directly behind you. Consider using an anti-glare screen if necessary. And position desk lights at an angle from behind, as lights that shine directly onto your reading surface (e.g. desk) are more harsh than light bouncing off the surface at a slight angle.


Wear sunglasses:
When you’re not in front of your computer, you can still protect your eyes from incoming light. This will help them endure longer periods in front of the monitor. Wear sunglasses outdoors (or even indoors if necessary). Make sure that the lenses have UV protection. If they don’t — they’ll have the opposite effect and tire out your eyes. (This is because the darker environment created by the tinted lenses will cause your irises to dilate and receive more light — UV light which causes discomfort, harm and fatigue.) Polarized lenses (that also have UV protection) are ideal because they minimize glare.

Keep Your Eyes Healthy

Photo by Matthew Fang

In addition to modifying your work habits and paying attention to lighting, follow these tips to keep your eyes healthy:

  • Have your eyes checked yearly.
  • If you wear corrective lenses, ask your optometrist if they’re a good fit for your degree of computer use.
  • Get enough rest, maintain a healthy diet, and stay hydrated. This will give you an overall boost so you’re not tired or susceptible to extra stress or tension.
  • Exercise your eyes when you’re not working on the computer by focusing on a close object (within 6 inches) for a few seconds and then focusing on a far-away object. This contracts and expands your lenses.
  • Give your eyes a break after work-hours. Apply chilled tea bags or cucumber slices at the end of your day. And don’t overload on more stimulation that can tire out your eyes, by watching TV or reading a small-font book without the right magnification and lighting.

Remember, your eyes weren’t designed for nonstop computer use. If you work on your computer for long hours, eyestrain is bound to occur. Don’t let eyestrain sneak up on you. Make healthy adjustments as soon as you can.

Melissa Karnaze is an experimental psychology masters student. She's interested in how we can use technology with greater mindfulness, writes about emotional productivity at Mindful Construct, and loves how the web is changing the world.

  • Published 09/2/10

Comments (51)

  1. Denorium

    I use f.lux, it’s an app that adjusts your monitor based on day/night.

    http://www.stereopsis.com/flux/

  2. DKrepitd

    I’m pretty sure I don’t have an obstetrician checking my eyes!

  3. wikidwill

    Help! My obstetrician says my eyes are pregnant!

  4. Luke

    If I needed my eye’s checked, I would avoid those obstetrician’s

  5. Jon

    I think he meant optometrist.

  6. Juan

    20 20 is not a “real” rule for people who work with/on the computer, what would be a more reasonable balance?

  7. Mrinmoy

    Use f.lux -its a software that reduces bright glare. Very usefull.

  8. Janet

    As long as you’re going to rewrite the obstetrician part; insert an “r” in the word “wok” in the last paragraph. Excellent piece. Thanks for your continued efforts.

  9. Jay

    My eyes aint your babies daddy!

  10. Name

    Best solution is food, eat apples, banans, in plenty

    And stop drinking milk, don’t eat a lot of meat, don’t use the microwave to heat food.

    This will work much better than all what was written above, I know because I did it.

  11. Melissa Karnaze

    Sorry for that major typo! Thanks Janet, both errors are now fixed.

    @Juan, the point is that your eyes weren’t designed to look at a computer screen for long periods of time. Breaks are good for you, but it’s your call on timing.

  12. Jenn

    I use f.lux software too. My desk faces a window, does anyone have suggestions for antiglare screen covers?

  13. jasray

    f.lux here, too. At first color seemed distorted, but at night especially I realized my eyes were infinitely fresher in the morning.

  14. Catholic Glasses!

    Take a break from being online. Take off your glasses. Works for me. It’s not rocket science. It’s just common sense.

  15. Tim

    Good tips, I’ve used the ‘Read offline’ method for quite a while now. I’ve also found that printing out posts and other computer created text also works great for editing as well. If I print out the copy, I always find mistakes that were not obvious when first edited via the computer screen.

  16. Melissa Karnaze

    @Tim, I don’t consider it “editing” unless I have paper copy and red pen handy. We perceive tangible things differently, which is one reason why it’s so easy to get lost and miss things on the web.

  17. LaMaee Lloyd

    Very helpful artical, Thank You. Yoga eye rolls are helpful also.

  18. LaMarrLloyd

    Sorry, that’s LaMarr Lloyd.

  19. Andy

    Use your browser’s settings for preferred and minimal font-size!

  20. Jeri Taylor

    Excellent article!!

  21. MikeR

    You can’t use polarized lenses with a computer monitor; the screen will go black (unless you turn your head sideways, which will give you other problems).

  22. SANDHYA

    You always have to take care of your eyes

  23. 1Buddhist

    Thank you.

  24. Travler

    Eyes are pretty useful things to have. Thanks God!

  25. Mark Nankman

    This is excellent. My eyes are killing me these last couple of weeks. I’ll take your advices to heart!

  26. jed

    on the internet google chrome zoom feature is very hand. for small text i just zoom in and read at ease

  27. Dr. Rings

    To “relax” your eyes, gaze out a window… the focus muscle in the eye works to focus at near, and relaxes the lens inside the eye for far away. If you are a wee-bit near-sighted and wear glasses, and can do it, remove your glasses for looking at a monitor. The eyes have to work (or strain) to see at near through glasses used to correct near-sightedness.

    If you are far-sighted, and have bifocals or progressive readers…get a prescription make for “office glasses”. There have the top portion calibrated for a monitor (arms length) and the bifocal portion for reading documents even closer.

    Cheers,

    Dr. Rings, M.D.
    Eye Surgeon (Ophthalmologist)

  28. Rafiek

    @ Dr. Rings, Im near-sighted so would eyes laser surgery be a good option instead of just wearing specs or contacts?

  29. Ocean

    Well, thank you so much for this useful information. Maybe mostly never focused on that unless they get negative consequences after long time reading.

  30. Tom

    When I have to read a long story on the computer, I always use Panopreter Plus to avoid eyestrain, it read out the text with the voice of Microsoft Anna.

    http://www.panopreter.com/en/products/panopreter_plus/index.php

  31. Graham

    Do eye excercises. It keeps the muscles strong and the eyes flexible.
    Focus on you finger as close to you as you can bear. Then look at something on the horizon. Do this ten times for each eye three times per day.
    Force you eyes to look up as far as possible then down then left and then right. The force them to look around a square top-right to top left to bottom left to bottom right etc ten times three times a day.
    The cover your eyes for about 20 seconds and blink as fast as you can. I don’t know what this one does but it seems to relax them.
    This might all be rubbish but my eyes are 65 years old and I’ve spent 50% of that time either reading or watching a monitor. Just about to get my first set of glasses. I’ve been doing my eye exercises intermittently since I was about 20.

  32. Mohamed Moubasher

    Thanks Melissa for your topic, this problem prevents me from studying and preparing for exams, i’ll try your advices, hope it helps, and I tried f.lux and it’s GREAT.

  33. seasider

    My eyes sight is 20/0. Can I only see half the screen?

  34. Jacques

    Nice article. It does however omit a very pertinent aspect with regards to glare: most Windows-based programs, in their obsession to make everything look exactly as if it were written on paper, use white backgrounds with black text. Reversing these colours (when possible – e.g. in MS Word a blue background can be selected), i.e. white on black, significantly reduces glare and thus eye fatigue. Also, reduced glare means less enery consumed, so better battery life for your notebook!

  35. jeff

    yes my eyes where getting way strained like I was always wanted to close them and nap a bit lol but I will put some of the suggestions to use. when first I started learning about the computer I would be on up to 18 hours at a time can not do that any more and glad of it lol.

  36. gggirlgeek

    Comfortable screen reading has been an obsession of mine for a long time since my lazy butt only likes to be parked on a bed while surfing the Internet on a TV 5-10 feet away. I haven’t found an answer to my current problem — making white webpage backgrounds less painful on the eyes — but here are my tips from many years of experiments.

    *Surprisingly, LESS color contrast makes reading text easier on the eyes. Pastel backgrounds on Web pages are great. For example, light purple or tan works well behind black text.

    *In Firefox the extension Nosquint is awesome. But you’re better off setting your Global text to zoom larger rather than Full zoom because it can slow down browsing otherwise.

    *Colors in the same family stand out better against each other when using dark backgrounds. So in programs where I can pick the background and font color like Dos or Notepad I pick a dark green background with light green text. My favorites: dark blue with light aqua text. I also love dark maroon, purple or blue with pale yellow text. These also work well with aqua text.

    *Enlarge your fonts everywhere. My favorite fonts for clear browsing: Franklin Gothic Demi, Franklin Gothic Medium, Trebuchet — Last resort: Lucida console or Verdana.

    *Change Windows Font size to 125%. Fonts for Windows desktop themes: Franklin Gothic Demi (nice and bold), or Arial. Arial is great in 125% because it interferes with the text in other programs less. *Tip: many programs like Firefox use the settings in “Message Box” as their font settings. You can use a smaller font (like 9 or 10) here without reducing the fonts in the rest of the system to correct problems with large fonts. Also Arial works best here.

    *Keep monitor resolution at a smaller size. Optimum is normally way too small for fonts. Who needs to squint!

    *Turn down the back light on lcd screens. Mine is at 10% right now! Other settings that make it easier on the eyes: lower color intensity, Warmer color settings, lower contrast, and sometimes increasing brightness while lowering back light can help. Basically, everything opposite of what you need for good Movie or video watching.

    *I have my room lit with a lamp, placed directly behind my monitor (it’s large) where it doesn’t add a glare to my screen, and it’s out of my field of vision (no spots.) The only other alternative would be a light very far away if your room is extremely large.

    *Need I say turn on “Clear type tuning” and “Smooth edges of Screen Fonts” in Windows?

  37. Alexander

    In addition to the program that adjusts brightness it’s good to try EyeLeo at eyeleo.com.
    It reminds about breaks, shows eye exercises and thus reduces eye strain.
    I’ve been using it for a month and so far I’m satisfied.

  38. Haricharan

    Very Helpful article, Thanks for the Info

  39. prince

    thanks 4 that advise

  40. Helen

    I’ve just received my first pair of prescription glasses for long-sightedness. I am 41 years of age & have been experiencing dry tense sore eyes & headaches (& sometimes fuzzy vision) for, I realise now, almost a year. I’m not sure if this is as a result of natural degeneration due to the ageing process or whether it because I have suddenly over the past year been spending approx 12 hours in front of a computer screen 5 days a week (a little less at the w/e’s). Another factor to consider of course is that I perhaps have a genetic predisposition to long-sightedness as this has been my Mum’s prescription going way back to even her pre-teen childhood. Anyway, regardless of the causative & contributoiry factors… this glasses prescription is superb! I feel like a whole new world has opened up to me with everything looking brighter & more defined… & no more scrunching my eyes up & haphazardly holding a book / uni articles close to me & then away from me until I can find the best focus! Do you know I hadn’t even realised I was doing all of that until very recently. It’s amazing how you compensate without realising!
    Anyway hope this random blurb is informative / helpful in some way! :-)

  41. briannn

    hi guys

  42. briannn

    my eyes bled the last time i looked at this fing computer screen

  43. Ermintrude

    You think this is funny? this is a serious website.

  44. Wesley Umblio

    You have it easy Briannn my eyes pop out if i dont take my eye drops, also if i hold in my wee my pen*s implodes

  45. Jordan Bohordan

    I’ve just received my first pair of prescription glasses for long-sightedness. I am 41 years of age & have been experiencing dry tense sore eyes & headaches (& sometimes fuzzy vision) for, I realise now, almost a year. I’m not sure if this is as a result of natural degeneration due to the ageing process or whether it because I have suddenly over the past year been spending approx 12 hours in front of a computer screen 5 days a week (a little less at the w/e’s). Another factor to consider of course is that I perhaps have a genetic predisposition to long-sightedness as this has been my Mum’s prescription going way back to even her pre-teen childhood. Anyway, regardless of the causative & contributoiry factors… this glasses prescription is superb! I feel like a whole new world has opened up to me with everything looking brighter & more defined… & no more scrunching my eyes up & haphazardly holding a book / uni articles close to me & then away from me until I can find the best focus! Do you know I hadn’t even realised I was doing all of that until very recently. It’s amazing how you compensate without realising!
    Anyway hope this random blurb is informative / helpful in some way!

  46. Ermintrude

    O_o < < < FISH FISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  47. Ermintrude

    OMG WHY WONT ANYONE REPLY TO ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! COME ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I HATE LIFE…

  48. Eye Popper 666

    After I did my first eye-pop, my eyes starting acheing like mad, I tried scratching them with a needle, as I had seen a movie where the woman had done that and it seemed to work, i have these weird lines on my eyes now, any tips? much appreciated!

  49. Ermintrude

    hihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihihhihihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihhhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihihhihihiihihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihihhihihhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihihhhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhihihhhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihihihihhihihiihihhihihiihihihihihihihhhihihh

  50. IamGoodboy

    please would you two people take your eye problems elsewhere, this website is very important

  51. horis dayly

    Be quiet you toolbox, i like eye problems as i am strange and nosy

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