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Sitting Too Close to the Computer Can Damage Your Eyes

by Elyse Loeb

These days people spend hours upon hours staring at computer screens whether it is at work or on Facebook and other social media sites. Recent studies have shown that all this staring at screens may be straining your eyes. How bad can it be?

The human visual system is complex and amazingly adaptive. It can change focus to see objects both near and far. It can change to see in bright conditions or dark conditions. With the help of 140 million neurons in the visual cortex it can identify, classify, analyze and react to approximately 12 to 15 one-million-point images per second. Yet, despite this complexity, human eyes just don’t handle extended computer screen viewing all that well.”

Why Computers Can Harm Your Eyes

So what is it about computer screens that bothers our eyes? Apparently a lot considering there is actually a name for it: Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). According to WebMD, CVS is not a specific eye problem but rather made up of a ton of symptoms lumped together.

Our ciliary muscles control the shape of our lens and how well we focus. Staring closely at a computer screen forces our ciliary muscles to remain contracted without rest, thus tiring our eye muscles. In addition, staring causes us to decrease our blinking. According to James Sheedy, a professor at the Pacific University College of Optometry, blinking is necessary because it helps to keep our eyes moist, decreasing our blinking dries out the corneal surface. This may cause the cornea to become cloudy, causing foggy vision.

The normal blink rate is about 12-15 blinks per minutes, but computer users tend to only blink around 4-5 times per minute. The logic is blink less and you get more done; blinking disrupts our eye movement across a page and lowers productivity. However, this may take a toll on your eyes, leaving you with a dry, scratchy sensation.

Dennis Robertson, an ophthalmology professor at the Mayo Medical School, says another another issue is that the screen lighting causes us to squint. Squinting does in fact help to cut down on glare but it is exhausting to your eyes. One way to eliminate this problem is to invest in a anti-glare computer screen such as those from NuShield.

Somewhere between 50% and 90% of people who work at a computer screen have at least some symptoms of eye trouble.”

How to Fix It

Jeffrey Anshel, O.D., author of Visual Ergonomics in the Workplace,  has many suggestions to help relieve Computer Vision Syndrome and put less stress on our eyes. Besides getting an anti-glare computer screen, you may also want to change the lighting around you or change your computer’s brightness to eliminate glare as well. Consider enlarging the text size to reduce squinting.

Make sure your computer screen is some distance away from you rather than up against your nose. Ideally, position your screen slightly lower than your eyes with the center of the screen about 7-10 inches below your horizontal line of sight.

The Takeaway

The simplest advice may be to take breaks often. This breaks up the amount of time your eyes have to be strained staring at a computer. Even a quick lap around the office can be an effective relief.

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anon September 16, 2012 - 9:23 am

I’m not sure if this will help with eye strain or not, but there is a program called “f.lux” you can download for free (google it) that changes the brightness/color settings of your LCD monitor to match the time of day. I use it and it has minimal impact on your resources. I think it’s worth checking out.

bootzy July 27, 2012 - 2:50 pm

what about all the boomers with failing eyesight? are there ‘magnifiers for moniters’ ?

Margaret Garcia July 26, 2012 - 9:06 am

Useful content and awesome design you got here! I want to thank you for sharing your solutions and taking the time into the stuff you publish! Sublime work!

adam July 24, 2012 - 12:04 pm

As a college student with exams to study for, projects to complete, homework to digest and turn in, and various social media sites to maintain, I spend a lot of time on my computer. I’ve found that ergonomics are very important in combating eyestrain. Maintaining proper posture and distance from the monitor can also reduce the need to squint, to combat glare. I knew squinting was exhaustive for your eyes, but I didn’t know that 50% and 90% of people who work at a computer screen have at least some symptoms of eye trouble due to eye strain. I know there are also supplements that you can take to improve the health of your eyes. I am familiar with EyeScience’s brand of ocular nutrition vitamins and I know that taking such supplements can aid in reducing the effects of prolonged computer use which can lead to CVS.

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