“I’m staring at a computer all day.” Every day, I hear my patients say these words when they come to see me. These modern-day computer jockeys are complaining of eye strain, blurred vision and, of course, the related issues of headaches, neck and shoulder pain.
If you are like my patients, your screen time doesn’t have to be painful. You can lessen or even prevent problems by making a few important changes to your computer workspace and regularly visiting your eye doctor.
First, let’s talk about the location of your screen and the papers you’re working on. Your computer screen should be 20 to 26 inches away from your eyes. Keep the screen level with your line or sight or a little bit below eye level. The topmost line you read should not be higher than your eye level. When you are referencing documents, use a document holder which is placed at the same height of your monitor. It should be close enough so you don’t have to swing your head back and forth or constantly change your eye focus.
Lighting is key as well. You want to reduce glare and reflection that can cause eye strain. Get up and position the blinds or drapes so that they are shielding bright light from your direct view. You’ll want to place your monitor at a right angle from the window or main light source. When working at night, don’t use a single high-powered lamp, but diffuse the light source with several low-watt lamps positioned in a way that does not reflect the screen. Also, keep that monitor clean because dust can contribute to glare. Filters that reduce glare over your computer screen can also help.
Now, let’s focus on your eyes. You want to prevent dry eye, which can cause itching and burning. Indoor heaters are a big culprit for dry eye, as are medications like antihistamines. You can also get dry eye from poorly fitted or dirty contacts. And of course, staring at a computer for a long period of time doesn’t help, especially when you forget to blink as often as you should. Keep eye drops on hand and, for a real pick-me-up, cool your eye drops in the refrigerator about an hour before using them. Always check expiration dates on your eye drops and never share them.
It’s also a good idea to take a multivitamin which helps promote eye health. Almost all multivitamins include several of the necessary nutrients for healthy eyes. Look for ones that include vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc, zeaxanthin, selenium, lutein, calcium, thiamin, folic acid, omega-3 essential fatty acids, N-acetyl cysteine and alpha lipoic acid. If you can't find a single product that contains all or most of these nutrients, they are available individually.
For eyeglass and contact wearers, regularly updating your prescription is essential to your good health, especially after reaching the fabulous 40s. That’s when presbyopia — normal farsightedness — starts to develop. You may find that you need reading glasses or progressive lenses just for computer work. Or you may be a good candidate for laser surgery.
Finally, take a break after an hour or so of computer work. If you are truly “staring at your computer all day,” you'll need some down time to relax. Choose an activity that doesn’t involve screen time. Or better yet, take a walk and get a glass of water.
Remember the 20-20-20 rule!
Your eyes are amazing organs that should see you through a lifetime of work and playtime. Remember, no amount of work is so important that you sacrifice the precious gift of sight.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.