More than 70% of American knowledge workers suffer from eye strain — that fatigued eyeball feeling you get from staring at a screen all day.
The symptoms are familiar. Your eyelids get tired and dry, a headache starts rumbling inside your skull, and your ability to focus on your work starts to evaporate. These effects, research shows, lead to a drop in productivity.
To avoid getting eye strain at work, we combed through the medical literature looking for insights. Find them below.
Make your on-screen characters big enough that you can actually read them.
If your on-screen text is too small, you’re going to strain your eyes. A handy trick is to hold up a dollar bill to the screen — the letters you’re reading should be at least as big as the serial numbers, or about 3.5 mm.
Take a break every 15 minutes to help your focusing muscles recover.
Your eye has a bunch of muscles. Some are specifically for focusing. Like other muscles, they get worn out with overuse. So make a point to pause and look into the distance — like a building across the street — since that lets them recover.
“While you’re reading, your eyes make about 10,000 movements an hour,” Cornell University ergonomics professor Alan Hedge said in an interview. “It’s important to take a step back every 20 minutes and let your eyes rest.”
“Palm” your eyes to save them during a big project.
If you want to get more deliberate about resting those eyeballs, take the centres of your palms and place them over your eyes, letting them rest.
“This is essentially meditation for the eyes,” ophthalmologist Edward Kondrot tells CNN. “Take deep slow breaths and relax your eye muscles. This is a wonderful way to rejuvenate your eyes during those long computer projects.”
Blink more to keep your eyes from drying out.
When we’re staring into screens, we blink less, which prevents the eyeballs from getting the nutrients they need. Make a conscious effort to blink every 10 to 15 seconds to prevent desert eye, Kondrot says.
Feed your eyes the nutrients they need so they can work hard.
Eyeballs use up lots of the body’s energy, Kondrot says, so give them the nourishment they need with foods rich in vitamins A, C, and E or zinc. Alternatively, take a supplement.
Put your monitor far enough away to make it easy on your eyes.
You should literally keep your screen at arms length. If you’re sitting back in your chair, you should be able to just touch the screen with your outstretched hand.
Get an app so your monitor isn’t glaring at you all day.
Computer monitors are bright, which is great during the brightest hours of the day. But that light is harsh on your eyes in the early morning and evening — plus the blue light of screens wrecks your sleep cycles. To avoid that, try the app f.lux, which changes the colours of your screen to match the time of day, such as a yellow-orange around sunset.
Clean your monitor often.
Dust obscures text and makes it harder to read the screen, which tires your eyes faster.
Angle your monitor so you don’t have to fight on-screen glare.
If you can see a white shirt in the reflection of a turned-off monitor, you’ve got too much glare. In that case, reposition the screen to avoid glare — ideally at a perpendicular angle to any windows. Otherwise, install an anti-glare screen.
Get your eyes checked regularly.
If you need glasses and you don’t have them — or you need an upgraded prescription and don’t realise it — you’re making your eyes work harder than they need to.
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