3 Ways to Reduce Eye Strain at Work

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to pay more attention to maintaining my fitness.  If you’re in your early 20’s, sometimes it feels like fitness just takes care of itself.  A few extra beers at the bar on Saturday night… no big deal.  Skipping legs day… well, you might end up looking like a cartoon character, but its unlikely to result in injury.  Now that I’m in my 30’s, however, I’ve come to realize that fitness does not just take care of itself!

Those extra beers take their toll on Sunday morning.  The unbalanced workout routine leads to muscle imbalances and, ultimately, injury.  Luckily, a lot of the effects of getting older can be held at bay to some degree through weight training to avoid muscle imbalances resulting from long hours in the office.  There are some aspects of aging, however, that cannot be easily reversed through training.  One such effect that I’ve begun to experience in my own life is eye strain.

Fundamentally, there are 4 key structures that function together to make up the visual system:

  1. Cornea – The clear layer of tissue that forms the outermost layer of the eye and protects the intricate inner eye structure.
  2. Lens – Focuses light on the retina and brings images into focus.
  3. Retina – Light sensitive tissue that behaves like the “film” of the eye, converting light into impulses to be interpreted by the brain.
  4. Optic Nerve – Carries impulses to the brain.
Eye Anatomy

Anatomy of the Eye

Virtually all problems related to eyesight involve one of these four structures.  Some of the more common ailments involve inflammation and cloudiness in the cornea as well as degradation of the lens’ ability to focus over a wide variety of distances.  While many ailments involving the cornea and lens can be addressed with glasses and contacts or surgery if necessary, problems with the retina and optic nerve tend to be related to disease and require prolonged treatment.

The good news is that it appears that computer usage is unlikely to lead to long-term damage to any of these structures.  The bad news is that prolonged computer usage can really do a number on your eyes in terms of eye strain, fatigue and inflammation.  Issues related to computer usage tend to involve inflammation of the cornea and the musculature that manipulates the lens.  Here are 5 quick ways that you can minimize eye strain while working at a computer.

1. Take a Break

This is perhaps the simplest and most effective way to minimize eye strain.  The problem with working at a computer for long periods of time is that it involves maintaining focus at a fixed distance.  Additionally, while at a computer, we’re often doing work that requires intense concentration.  As a result, we often forget to blink, which leads to dried out eyes, and potentially inflammation.

Take a quick break every 15 minutes to stare off into the distance.  One rather interesting “workout” for the eyes involves shifting focus back and forth between close and far away text.  It works like this:

  1. Take a pen, credit card or some other item that has text printed on it in a relatively small font and hold it up in front of your face.  Focus on the first letter for 2 seconds.
  2. Next, focus on the first letter of some text at least 20 feet away for 2 seconds.  Perhaps a poster, sign or banner in the office.
  3. Next, focus on the second letter of your pen, credit card or other item for 2 seconds.
  4. Continue to alternate between the close and far away text until you’re satisfied.

By alternating focus between close and far away text, you are essentially exercising the musculature of the eye that shapes the lens to focus closer or farther away.

2. Check your Lighting

While exercising your eyes and remembering to blink is one of the most important things you can do to reduce eyestrain, working in a properly lit environment is equally important.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across developers essentially frying their eyes with brightly lit monitors in dark environments or, worse, squinting to make out text on some poorly lit monitor with painful contrast settings.

There are a couple things to keep in mind when it comes to lighting:

First, you don’t want to work in a situation where there is a ton of bright, specular light.  Specular light refers to light which creates those bright spots on your monitor from glare.  Typically, specular light comes from outdoor light when sitting by a window or from those trendy bright lights that you might expect in a night club.  Instead, try to work in an environment where the light is diffuse.

Second, try to match your monitor brightness with the ambient light level.  You don’t want your monitor to be washed out by the brightness of your work environment.  Similarly, you don’t want your monitor to be the brightest thing in the room.  In short, try to keep things in balance.

10. Contrast and Colors

There is an increasing body of evidence that blue light is responsible for a number of the problems associated with eye strain when it comes to computer usage.  Not only that, but blue light can cause problems with the sleep cycle and REM sleep.

One program that attempts to address this problem is f.lux, which changes the color warmth and contrast of your monitor throughout the day to match the natural changes in light that occur outdoors.

Additionally, a number of companies have come out with products that attempt to address blue light generated from monitors.  For instance, you can now purchase glasses specifically designed to block the short wavelength (blue) portion of the visible spectrum:

J+S Vision Blue Light Shield Computer Reading/Gaming Glasses

J+S Vision Blue Light Shield Computer Reading/Gaming Glasses

Check Price

Other companies have come out with products which are placed directly on the monitor in order to dim the blue portion of the spectrum at the source:

Blue Light Screen Protector Panel by Accurate Films

Blue Light Screen Protector Panel by Accurate Films

Check PriceAlternatively, you may just want to consider avoiding using a computer before bed time.  Some text editors allow you to change the color and contrast settings in order to avoid bright colors as well.

By following these tips, you can minimize eye strain and hopefully set yourself up for a long, productive and healthy career in the office.

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