Prevent Eye Strains from Screen Time

Is too much computer time taking a toll on your eyes? Are you experiencing frontal headaches and blurry vision? If so, then you may have computer vision syndrome, which is the strain your eyes experience from staring at a fixed target all day long, says Christopher Starr, MD, Director of Refractive Surgery and Associate Professor of Ophthalmology. “When we're staring at computers, we don't blink as much, the tears evaporate, and the surface of the eye gets dry and irritated and gritty, which can affect vision,” Dr. Starr says.

Taking breaks from the screen helps

“The most important and easiest thing to remember is the 20-20-20 rule. When you're on a computer, take a break every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds, by looking into the distance at an object that's 20 feet away or further,” he says. He also recommends either closing the eyes completely or rapidly blinking for 20 seconds. If your eyes are still getting dry and irritated despite blinking and closing them every 20 minutes or so, then try an over-the-counter lubricant to help soothe and relubricate them.

Getting up from your desk and walking around is also important. “Get away from the computer, let your eye muscles relax and your eyes relubricate, walk around to get your blood flowing,” Dr. Starr says.

Consider computer glasses

Depending on your age and vision strength, you may benefit from computer glasses. “As we get older, our eye muscles get weak, and we need more and more magnification to see up close,” Dr. Starr says. He suggests over-the-counter reading glasses, starting at a strength of 1+ and building up to 2.5 or 3 as needed.

Some computer glasses have special lenses to block the stimulating blue light that computers emit, but this is purely a matter of personal choice, Dr. Starr says. “Most Apple computers and digital devices have a ‘night shift’ mode where you can set a timer that turns off all the blue pixels at a certain time,” he says. “It helps to get a good night's sleep when you're not staring at these excitable blue pixels.”

Some people need prescription—rather than over-the-counter--blue light blocking glasses, such as progressive bifocal lenses where the top is for distance vision, and the bottom is for close-up reading. There are even trifocals, with an intermediate part of the lens for looking at computers.

Ideally, computer glasses will stop you from sitting too close to your computer, which will also alleviate the burden on your eye muscles. “Hopefully, by the end of the day, you're not furrowing your brow and complaining that your head hurts because you've been straining all day. Computer glasses alleviate that,” Dr. Starr says.

But even if you don’t need a prescription for computer glasses, you should visit your eye doctor if you experience any kind of change in your eyes or vision. “In this day and age, most healthcare practitioners are vaccinated,” Dr. Starr says. “Every office that I know of, certainly my office at Cornell, has taken every precaution to make the environment as safe as possible, reducing the numbers of people in exam and waiting rooms at any given time. Everyone is social distancing and wearing double masks, and there is sanitizer everywhere. I don't know of any cases of Covid-19 that have been transmitted in the office setting. So, if you have a problem with your eyes, it's better to have it evaluated than hope it gets better on its own.”

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