If you regularly spend long hours in front of the computer, your days might follow a pattern. You may feel pretty good in the morning (after you’ve shaken off residual sleepiness), but by the end of the day, you have a headache and sore eyes and you feel worn down.
One reason for this could be that your desk isn’t set up properly for productivity, leading to poor posture and other physical issues. But another big reason could be computer eye strain, which affects up to 90 percent of heavy computer users.
What Is Computer Eye Strain?
When you focus your sight on something, the muscles in and around your eyes work together to change the shape of your eye. This affects the refraction of the eye lens. To focus on something far away, the lens is shaped one way; to focus on something near your face, the lens is shaped another way.
Computer eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome, occurs when your eyes stay focused on a close-range object (i.e. computer monitor or mobile device) for so long that it strains your eye muscles.
Throughout the day, your eye muscles grow fatigued and lose their ability to focus optimally. As the condition worsens, it could lead to increased muscle tension, decreased blinking, general discomfort, and several other symptoms.
The 5 Main Symptoms of Computer Eye Strain
If you aren’t sure if you’re experiencing computer eye strain, check out the following symptoms. Think back to see if you’ve suffered any of them during days where you’ve used the computer for more than three hours:
- Eye fatigue: In mild cases, eye fatigue can present as difficulty focusing on objects, especially when quickly re-focusing from one distance to another. As it gets worse, eye fatigue can lead to pain or discomfort around the eyes.
- Irritated eyes: Your eyes may start to feel scratchy at first, and as the condition worsens, they may even begin to burn. You may even develop significant redness. All of these are signs that your eyes are drying out.
- Blurred vision: Text and images may start looking fuzzy even when your eyes seem like they’re properly focused. Or you may see double vision. If the culprit is computer eye strain, the blurriness will resolve after you get some rest.
- Headache or dizziness: Both headaches and dizziness are signs that computer eye strain has turned into something a bit more serious. You should get checked out by your doctor if the headaches or dizziness last beyond a day.
- Neck and shoulder pain: As your vision worsens and discomfort increases, your body will subconsciously adjust itself so you can see better. This leads to poor posture, which affects the neck, shoulders, and even your back.
It’s better to address the issue as soon as your eyes feel tight, sore, or strained instead of putting it off for weeks, months, or longer. It is possible to recover from computer eye strain, but the recovery process will be faster the earlier you catch it.
In general, computer eye strain is temporary and starts to resolve as soon as you stop using the computer or mobile devices. In mild cases, your eyes may feel normal again within hours or by the next morning. Older folks, or those who have strained their eyes for many years, may need longer for full recovery.
How to Relieve and Prevent Computer Eye Strain
For immediate relief, you can use lubricating eye drops. Computers cause dry eyes because you’re less likely to blink when processing all the information on the screen. Less blinking means less moisture. Lubricating drops will instantly relieve dry, scratchy, and irritated eyes. (Don’t use eye drops meant for redness or allergies.)
Keep an eye on room humidity levels. The drier the environment, the faster moisture evaporates from your eyes. Ideal humidity for computer work is between 30 and 50 percent. Learn more in our article on the benefits of monitoring indoor humidity.
For longer-term relief, always abide by the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Giving your eyes short muscle breaks like this can postpone—or even stave off—eye fatigue and strain. Use something like Google Now reminders so you don’t forget.
Also, put your computer monitor in the best position. At minimum, it should be at arm’s length away (around 20-24 inches) from your eyes. When looking straight ahead, your eyes should align with the top of the monitor. In general, you want your eyes looking downward instead of upward.
Screen brightness matters. When in doubt, brighter is better. A brighter screen causes your pupils to constrict, which increases focal range and allows your eyes to focus on the screen with less effort. Large text is preferable to small text, whenever possible.
Consider buying a pair of computer glasses. Computer glasses are like reading glasses in that you only wear them when using a computer, but they’re meant to make focusing easier and require less effort.
You can get a pair of +1.00 or +1.50 glasses online or over-the-counter in a pinch, but for best results you should consult an eye care professional and get a proper prescription. Lenses with anti-reflective coating and a slight tint are slightly more effective.
If you’re on a Mac, we recommend these apps to reduce eye strain:
Other Computer Mistakes That Can Cause Discomfort
Eye strain isn’t the only issue that can crop up with prolonged computer use. Repetitive strain injury in the wrists, spinal problems from slouching, and general health deterioration caused by a sedentary lifestyle are all major risks.
That’s why we highly recommend switching to an ergonomic mouse, investing in a properly designed office chair, and using adjustable standing desks to seamlessly switch between sitting and standing throughout the day. Don’t just take care of your eyes—take care of your entire well-being!