Here are some tips to prevent eyestrain when working on computers, tablets, or phones.
Screen vs Room Brightness. Try to match your screen brightness to the ambient light and vice versa. Working in a dark room with a bright screen can cause eye strain because the central and peripheral retina have to maintain differing levels of light adaptation. Likewise, it can be very difficult to focus on a dim screen in a bright environment, such as when working outdoors.
Reduce Glare. Reduce glare from windows and overhead lights on your screen or glasses by positioning your workspace at proper angles or using window shades. Anti-reflective coatings on glasses will reduce glare, block UV light, and can optionally also block a percentage of blue light.
Screen Height. Try not to look above eye level for an extended period of time. It can cause muscle strain in your eyelids, brows, forehead, or neck that can contribute to headaches. It can also cause more ocular dryness from having to open your eyes wide. Adjust your screen, desk, or chair so that ideally the top of your screen is at or below eye level while maintaining good back and neck posture. This is also the ideal position if you are using multifocal glasses, like an occupational progressive.
Screen Viewing Distance. The closer you are to a screen, the more your eyes have to work to focus which can lead to fatigue, blur, or headaches. If you have an option of a larger desktop monitor vs a smaller laptop or tablet, it may be more comfortable to work with the larger monitor placed farther away. This will help to reduce the amount of near focus, known as accommodation, which can make an impact if you are working for more than an hour or two.
Take Short, Frequent Breaks. Follow the 20-20-20 Rule: every 20 minutes, take a 20 second visual break from your screen by looking at something 20 feet away. This relaxes accommodation in order to prevent muscle fatigue or spasm. You may need to set a recurring alarm to get in the habit at first. Conveniently, it’s such a short break that you don’t even have to break your train of thought when
you’re in the zone.
Stay Hydrated. Our blink rate decreases when reading on a screen which leads to ocular dryness, so stay hydrated! The best way to do this is to keep a water bottle at your desk. Make sure it has a tightly closing lid because you will knock it over at some point, and that’s no good around electronics and papers. If I don’t have a bottle within arms-reach, I end up drinking almost 50% less in a day! In fact, ocular dryness is so prevalent that I’m including dry eye prevention for the remainder of this guide, so read on...
Hydration. It is extremely important to drink enough water each day, especially in the arid climate of Davis. Have a refillable water bottle at your desk, in your car, or in your bag. Add a water cooler or filtration system at home or work for good tasting water. Start drinking water early in the day before breakfast and throughout the morning and afternoon. Taper in the early evening so you can sleep well at night without having to make multiple trips to the restroom, since being well rested also helps with tear film production.
To determine baseline daily water intake, take your body weight in pounds, divide by two, and convert that number to ounces. Example: 150lbs ÷ 2 = 75 ounces of water per day. This assumes that you aren’t drinking coffee, tea, diet soda, alcohol, eating salty snacks, or exercising! If you do any of the above then you need to drink even more water. On days that I exercise I drink a gallon of water or more.
Gentle Eyelid Hygiene. There are two sets of oil glands along the edge of the eyelids. The first are Sebaceous glands which lubricate the eyelashes with oil to prevent them from becoming brittle. The second are Meibomian glands which secrete oil into the tear film to produce the lipid layer. We have bacteria living on our skin that can invade these glands and cause the oil to solidify like butter, or even form crust along the eyelashes. These bacteria can occasionally cause an infection of the gland, known commonly as a stye.
A simple way to keep the oil glands healthy is to gently wash your eyelids every day. Many people neglect to wash this area because they are worried about getting soap in their eyes. When you take a shower, take the same soap you use to wash your face and gently rub a dilute amount on your fingertips over the eyelids and eyelashes, then rinse completely with warm water before opening your eyes. This is a fast and easy way of washing away excessive bacteria and debris on the surface of the eyelids. If you are consistent in gently washing your eyelids in the shower and at the sink before bed it will gradually improve the lipid layer of tears and prevent dryness.
Diet. The source of the oil in the lipid layer is from your diet. Some people find that dietary changes and/or supplements can help improve their symptoms. Specifically recommended are Omega-3 foods such as oily fish (salmon, sardines), nuts/seeds (flax seed, walnuts), or fish oil supplements. Of course, all foods and supplements should be consumed in moderation and are most effective when combined with the other treatments listed in this guide.
Lubricating Drops. Artificial tears, gels, and ointments won’t address the root issues behind ocular irritation, but they can help to relieve symptoms. Some products are mild lubricants, such as Systane Tears, Blink Tears, or Refresh Tears, which all can be used with contact lenses. There are also slightly thicker gel formulations (not for use with contacts). Other products specifically target lipid deficiency, such as Soothe XP (contains mineral oil), Refresh Mega-3, and Systane Complete (also not for use with contacts). These products are most effective after performing warm compresses and/or eyelid hygiene in the morning and before bed.
Prevention of Exposure. Wind, vents, and fans can cause more rapid evaporation of the tear film, even when sleeping! If you sleep with an oscillating fan or ceiling fan, you may experience more symptoms in the morning. Consider using a sleep mask to act as a barrier against evaporation of the tear film, which often occurs since our eyelids leave a very small opening when we sleep. When you’re a driver or passenger in a car, aim the cabin air vent away from your eyes and toward your torso, feet, or windshield instead. When you ride a bicycle, use glasses or sunglasses that provide broad coverage over your eyes to reduce wind exposure. Adjust the vents at home or in your office to direct any air away from your face.