How To Reduce Eye Strain At Your Computer
Take the Stress Out of Your Head
Do you spend a lot of time in front of the computer?
Ever rub your eyes and want to stop working?
You may be experiencing Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), the official diagnosis given to a range of symptoms that include:
- dry and strained eyes
- neck ache
- blurred vision
CVS, more commonly known as computer eyestrain, is due to over- or misuse of computer monitors, bad lighting and other environmental and ergonomic factors.
Stubborn, persistent, and regular physical discomfort due to one or more of these symptoms cuts your productivity sharply over time.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has found that 75% of computer users surveyed “reported occasional aching or burning eyes at work,” while another “39% reported blurred vision.”1
Take a Break – an Easy Solution
According to the Mayo Clinic, CVS reportedly poses few long-term problems, but is nevertheless uncomfortable enough to warrant changes in your work or study attitude and inspire some habits that relieve long periods of routine computer use:
- Take a few minutes away from your computer, better yet your desk each hour.
- If you can’t leave your desk, lean back, close your eyes and relax.
- Segment auxiliary work tasks; use them to break up otherwise lengthy computer sessions.
- Quickly revive yourself with a few easy stretches.
The telecommuter with a laptop has the freedom to go outside, create an office out of thin-air, and work from home, in jeans and tee shirt, or pajamas. Even with all this apparent flexibility there should still be the compulsion to include breaks and alternate routines.
Light Your Workspace Properly
There are plenty of situations in which daylight is the best choice for task work. However, direct sunlight and bright indirect light do not make the best companions for computer work. General lighting rules of thumb apply for those who have to look at a computer monitor for hours each day:
- Overhead lighting and bright light emanating from behind your monitor are tough on the eyes. If you have the option, use table lamps off to either side of your work area. Your monitor throws its own light, so you really only need adequate indirect light around you.
- If you are close to a sunny window, close or adjust the blinds so light does not fall directly onto your monitor.
- Avoid working in a dark room. Your monitor will be like a bright beacon in the dark. Your eyes will have to struggle between the extremes of light and dark. If you must work in near dark conditions, try dimming the brightness of your monitor screen. It will allow you to work reasonably comfortably for maybe an hour or so, but at some point your eyes will certainly feel the strain.
- If you really mean to kick computer eye strain and want to properly light your home or office workspace, shop specifically for high-quality task lights that not only throw a measured degree and quality of light, but also reduce glare.
Get a Humidity Fix: Dry Air = Dry Eyes
There are, of course, other environmental factors that may contribute to symptoms of computer eyestrain. The architectural amalgam of manmade building materials in our home, dorm, and office environment creates an impervious cocoon. Office air is typically dry which can dry out your eyes. Combine this with the fact that “Computer use results in a decrease of blinking to almost one third of normal.”2 Blinking is the eye’s natural recipe for moisture.
- Natural plants in your workspace can increase humidity as well as control dust and other irritating particles.3
- Over the counter natural tear products are useful to relieve dry eyes, a main complaint among heavy computer users.
Get Physical Relief through Ergonomics and Hardware
Office environment may be within your power to change. Fluorescent lighting and white-hued cubicles characterize the typical corporate space. The desktop without a computer monitor is rare.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) develops regulations that govern the safety and comfort of the American worker. Your company must make a reasonable effort to provide you with an ergonomically safe workspace.
For example, wrist supports minimize the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome and desk chairs with lumbar supports reduce back strain, particularly for those employees predisposed to either condition. For the growing population of workers demonstrating debilitating symptoms of computer eyestrain, both at home and in the office, there is a stable of helpful hardware and accessories:
Monitors Matter Most
Consumers have a range of monitor types from which to choose and in a wide price range. There are CRT monitors, flat-screen, wide screen, high definition, LCD and screens in matte and glossy finishes. Each delivers a distinctive visual experience.
OSHA’s standards regarding workstation monitors include suggestions for position, angle, settings, and lighting.CRT Monitor Refresh Rates Explained
If you are among thousands of computer users still sharing a desktop with a large and lumbering cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor then you are subject to the flicker-effect.
Inherent in the function of a CRT is the refresh rate of the pixel images. The cathode ray in the monitor constantly scans the screen to “redraw” the image. The process is rapid, but still allows for minute breaks between images perceived as flickers by the human eye.
- The CRT refresh rate may be custom calibrated to reduce the flicker, and in turn reduce the typical eye strain and fatigue associated with a low refresh rate. The flexibility you have to custom calibrate refresh rates may also be dependent on the quality of your computer’s video and graphics card as well as your monitor.
As a rule, the higher the refresh rate, the better for your vision, although some sources report no noticeable difference above a certain range. As a starting measurement you should consider a 60 Hz refresh rate at the low end of the comfort scale.Consider Your Purpose before Buying a Monitor
Most desktop computer systems come already bundled with a monitor, but generally components or peripherals are customizable. Before you settle for the “affordable” monitor, consider your intended uses for the system. A computer for at home email and bill paying purposes might be just fine with a bottom of the line, curved screen CRT monitor, but if your computer will receive heavy use whether work or enjoyment, you might check into at least one of the flat screen CRTs.
- Invest in a flat screen model. Flat screens of any kind provide a much more graphically sound image than those on the old curved screens. Flat screen CRTs offer better refresh rates and a richer palette of contrast and color adjustments.
Flat panel desktop monitors offer the best image for a range of prices.
Many offices are now outfitting their workstations with Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) flat panels for a number of reasons such as being ergonomically and electronically sound. CRTs radiate electromagnetic waves and gobble electricity.
A horde of CRTs can very well interfere with other electronic equipment. LCDs, on the other hand, are much more portable, energy frugal, exponentially lighter than their dinosaurian brethren and suited for small spaces. And most importantly the resolution of a LCD monitor reduces computer eye strain.
- Invest in a laptop. If you are considering a laptop, the LCD monitors vary in size from a tiny 10” up to 19”. Regardless of the width of the screen these monitors deliver high definition graphics, deep color contrast and a well-worth-it range of adjustable settings. Compare and contrast pixel specifications to determine which will most suit your needs.
Fine Tune Your Monitor
LCD monitors allow the user a range of adjustable settings: contrast, color, and brightness and their construct eliminate refresh settings, a characteristic bugaboo of cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors.
- Configure your computer’s graphics settings for optimal visual comfort. Settings are completely subjective and in the case of laptops may even require frequent adjustments depending on available lighting and other variables dependent on the environment.
- Font sizes may be adjusted for your comfort, as well. If you find yourself leaning forward to read the text on the screen then you should increase the point size of your font. “Small fonts can actually cause rises in blood pressure and stress levels.”4
Position Your Monitor for Optimal Viewing
Reduce your chances for eye strain by placing your monitor appropriately:
- Optometrists recommend a computer monitor be somewhere between 20 and 30 inches from your eyes.5 The length of your arm, from shoulder to finger tips, should be just about right for measuring the distance between yourself and the monitor. At this distance your head-on gaze should meet the monitor’s top edge, which means you will view the screen at a slight downward angle. At this distance and angle, text should be clear and readable, and images sharp and identifiable.
Relieve Glare with Custom Filters for Your Monitor
In response to the 21 st century computer s
lave’s demands, there are all manner of gadgets and accoutrements devised as companion to your workspace, whether that space is office, dorm-room, home, or on-the-fly location. Bright overhead light and bright sunlight are a nemesis for computer work for the glare each produces. Glare on a monitor screen can throw off your whole rhythm:
- Anti-glare monitor shields and filters may be optical glass quality, polarized, and designed for CRT, flat panel or laptop monitors. You may opt for an additional privacy feature and models with an anti-static coating that repel dust and other particulate matter. Polarized shields offer top of the line protection.
Adjust To Your Specific Work Requirements
Make adjustments in computer equipment and accessories relative to your field of work. The type of work you do may exert specific demands on your eyes:
- Data Entry Professionals and Administrative Assistants typically convert data from documents to electronic databases. Document holders minimize eye-strain by keeping hard-copy documents vertical and at the same distance from your eyes as the monitor. Eyes that must constantly readjust for distance and position will tire and become sore much sooner.6
- Computer Programmers work intensively with complex computer languages heavy on symbols and intricate visual configurations. Some sources suggest more code-concise and visually friendly fonts for programmers such as Courier, New Courier and a slew of other customized fonts; some free, and some with a price tag.
- Graphics/Web Designers should have a top of the line high definition monitor for intricate art and design work. Adjust your operating system to make it easy on the eyes. If you use Windows and have an LCD monitor enable ClearType.
Equipment and Behavior Modification Are Not Enough?
You’ve modified your work habits and adjusted your workspace and computer for optimum visual performance. However, CVS remains a nagging problem that continues to cut into your productivity. Could the problem be opthalmic?
- Get an eye exam. According to the American Optometric Association, adults up to age 40 should have an eye exam every three years; those aged 40 to 60, every two; and 60 plus, every year. However, if you are among the thousands of Americans with a medical condition, such as diabetes, that may pave the way for eye problems, or work in a “highly visually demanding” job, then you are advised to seek more frequent exams:
“Computer users should describe their work center to the optometrist so he or she can make suggestions for correcting trouble spots that could be contributing to computer vision syndrome.”7
- Computer Viewing Glasses, maybe? Perhaps you’ve heard or read about the glasses you can get to wear while working with your computer. Plenty of online sources will purport to sell you computer viewing glasses, but there is no such thing as over-the-counter, ‘one size fits all’ computer glasses. Computer glasses must be designed for the individual, and prescribed by your eye doctor. Computer glasses are sometimes called multi-focals for their ability to split the field of vision. Designed much like a bi-focal, you look through the upper part of the lens at the monitor screen and through the bottom half of the lens for keyboard and desktop work. These products provide better resolution and optics, advantageous for long-term computer work, but are not to be confused with prescription eyeglasses.
Our Physical Limitations
Here we are a civilized people in the 21st century. Our technology still trips along under the influence of Moore’s Law and yet we are strangely dragged backwards by our physical limitations, which hasn’t changed all that much in the last few thousand-plus years.
For the uber-competitive, the business day no longer ends when the “ five o’clock whistle” blows. Laptops travel. Commuters take work-to-go onto trains, buses, and planes, stretching the business day way beyond the office edges. Work spreads into coffee shops and cafes, and into wired outdoor urban greenspace. Whatever your situation; your burning, dry and strained eyes are a reminder to adapt accordingly or pay the consequences.
- “Occupational Health Aspects of Work with Video Display Terminals,” Lim, Sauter and Schnorr, National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health.
- Computer Vision Syndrome, University of Pennsylvania Health System, Penn Eye Care Scheie Eye Institute.
- Impact of Interior Plants on Relative Humidity and Dust, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Washington State University.
- Eye Strain and Your Computer Screen, Mayo Clinic.
- Eye Problems, Dr. Trisha McNair, BBC Health.
- Eye Strain and Your Computer Screen, Mayo Clinic.
- Computer Vision Syndrome, American Optometric Association.
How to Properly Clean your LCD Screen
The standard definition of high definition is 1920x1080, or the more commonly resolution of 1920x1200. Finding a laptop with that kind of native resolution is almost impossible.
There is a reason why publishing companies overwhelmingly sitll use CRTs when color matters the most.
Nor does the resolution of a LCD help with eye strain any more than the resolution on a CRT. How can it if the resolutions were the same?
I'll stop with my list of errors here.
It's just a tiny program that reminds you ever hour to take a 5 minute break (reminders are customizable). No more sitting at the computer for 5 hours straight without knowing it! :)
"Flat screen monitors" different from "Flat Panel monitors", the later of which are commonly known as LCDs.
Flat Screen Monitors are still CRT technology, the shape of the surface of the monitor is flat, and the technology used is superior to the old curved ones that cost $50 for a 19" now. Higher refresh rates are typically available in these newer models of CRTs than older ones.
Refresh rates are not applicable in the same way with LCDs, instead "refresh rates" on LCDs are better referred to as response time, or the time it takes for the pixels on the LCD to update with the new information sent to it. So a typical "refresh rate" of 60mhz is applied to LCDs to make the outdated monitor driver components built into operating systems to be compatible.
Response times are spec'd on LCD monitors but no standard of measurement has been established and any response time claimed by a LCD manufacturer is subjective.
Therefore the best way to find out the performance of a LCD's response time is by reviews by end-users. If "Ghosting" is a problem, this means that response rate of the LCD is not very good.
I do agree with you on your points about color range and contrast is better with CRTs than LCDs. Eye strain however is less due to the clarity available with LCDs. Resolution is only as good as the sharpness of the pixels. CRTs especially older ones, tend to blur the definition of pixels.