You probably know that too much screen time isn't good for you, but sometimes it's unavoidable. A survey of 2,000 workers by Acuvue found that people who work in an office spend nearly 6.5 hours in front of a computer every day. That's about 1,700 hours a year, which doesn't even account for extracurricular scrolling.
The problem is, prolonged periods of screen time tend to be tough on your eyes. Staring at digital devices dries out the eyes because it decreases your blink rate by a third to a half, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
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The result is often a series of temporary symptoms known as eye strain. The most common symptoms include blurry vision, headaches and dry eye, but these can vary from person to person, says Abdhish R. Bhavsar, MD, clinical spokesperson for the AAO and director of the Retina Center in Minneapolis.
Symptoms can even differ within the eyes. For example, "Eye strain can occur in one eye more than another, or it can be asymmetric," Dr. Bhavsar adds.
While eye strain is unpleasant for your peepers, the good news is that it causes no lasting harm and is easy to alleviate. Here, Dr. Bhavsar shares six simple strategies to stave off eye strain.
1. Keep Your Distance
Believe it or not, your eyes must work harder to see things that are near, per the AAO. Translation: sitting too close to your computer monitor makes your eyes exert more effort.
In other words, creating some space between you and your screen can soothe the strain. "Sit 18 to 25 inches away from your computer screen, about arm's length, and position the screen so your eyes gaze slightly downward," Dr. Bhavsar says.
2. Follow the 20-20-20 Rule
Humans normally blink about 15 times in one minute, but this number drops as low as five blinks per minute when we're using computers and other digital devices, Dr. Bhavsar says.
"Taking a break every 20 minutes to look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds (the '20-20-20 rule') will help you remember to blink and keep your eyes moist," he explains.
3. Reduce the Glare on Your Screen
The glare on your computer screen is more than just annoying — it can also aggravate your eyes and intensify eye strain.
To get rid of the glare, consider using a matte screen filter, suggests the AAO.
4. Use a Humidifier
If your eyes feel drastically drier in the office, it's probably because many office buildings have humidity-control systems (and powerful heating) that minimize moisture in the air, per the AAO.
Luckily, the solution is simple: Running a humidifier will add moisture back to the air and decrease dry eye, Dr. Bhavsar says.
5. Adjust Brightness and Contrast
"If your screen glows brighter than your surroundings, your eyes may feel more strained," Dr. Bhavsar says. Switching up your monitor settings can help eliminate eye strain.
Simply adjust your screen's brightness to match the level of light around you and increase the contrast for more comfortable viewing, he says.
6. Use Artificial Tears
Dr. Bhavsar recommends applying artificial tears to keep eyes moist and relieve the discomfort of dry eye associated with eye strain. While there's an abundance of over-the-counter options, keep in mind that some brands contain preservatives, which can cause irritation in certain people (check the ingredient label).
If you're still experiencing eye strain after trying the above tips, you should speak to your ophthalmologist.
What About Blue Light Glasses?
If you were wondering whether to purchase a pair of blue light glasses to reduce eye strain, don't waste your money.
"The American Academy of Ophthalmology does not recommend blue light-blocking glasses because there is no scientific evidence that blue light coming from a computer screen causes digital eye strain or damages the eye," Dr. Bhavsar says.
In fact, a February 2021 study in the American Journal of Ophthalmology found that blue light-blocking lenses aren't any more effective at improving symptoms of digital eye strain than clear lenses.
- American Academy of Ophthalmology : “Protect Your Eyes From Too Much Screen Time”
- StudyFinds: “Average Office Worker Spends About 1,700 Hours A Year In Front Of Computer Screen”
- American Journal of Ophthalmology : “Do Blue-blocking Lenses Reduce Eye Strain From Extended Screen Time? A Double-Masked Randomized Controlled Trial”
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.