Computer Vision Syndrome is a term that’s been in the news lately. Skeptics say it’s a trendy new diagnosis for an old phenomenon — eye strain resulting from close-up visual tasks. Basically, CVS is a fancy term for eye strain and a cluster of other symptoms (dry eyes, blurred vision, fatigue, headaches) due to prolonged computer use. Anyone who’s ever toiled in an office all day has no doubt it exists! And neither does the American Optometric Association: Upwards of 10 million eye exams are provided each year to address computer-related vision problems, according to AOA surveys.
Regardless of how you label it, eye strain due to extensive computer use does occur. I fit patients with customized, prescription “occupational glasses” that not only address their specific vision problems but also are designed by me for the type of work they do and the precise environmental conditions they do it in. There are steps you can take on your own, though, to try to alleviate the symptoms of CVS and restore productivity.
Whether in a home office or a cubicle, there are limits to how you organize your workspace. Overall space, the size of your desk, lighting, and the equipment you use are usually not easily altered without a hefty bill or a promotion (but make no mistake — CVS can strike in the executive suite as well). Most of the solutions offered here are free.
Take “Eye Breaks”
Many people who work at a computer for hours on end admit they only break from their computer monitor for phone calls, meetings, or a bite to eat. This does not give your eyes sufficient time to relax and recuperate throughout the day. Make a habit of giving your eyes quick breaks from the computer screen about every 20 minutes by gazing at something 20 feet away. I call it the 20-20 rule.
Your natural field of view is 20 feet in front of you. Look at a picture on the wall, or look out the window. If you work in a cubicle, prairie-dog out of your hole and take a look around. Adjusting your focus in this manner gives your eyes a chance to blink and relax, which restores your tear film and reduces eye strain. If you still experience dry eyes, try using artificial tears for relief.
Adjust Your Monitor
As a rule of thumb, your monitor should be at least an arm’s length away from your normal sitting position. Any distance over that will depend on the size of your display. If you find yourself leaning in to read text, increase the display size for the programs that pose this problem. Once your monitor is at a comfortable viewing distance, it is important that you adjust the height so it lands in your natural field of view. That translates to about a 15 degree downward gaze. So, at arm’s length, the top of your monitor should be at eye level while you are seated comfortably in your chair.
Your monitor should be directly in front of you while you are working. Looking off to the side to see your work will cause your neck and eyes to tire more quickly. If your desktop space is limited, pulling the desk away from the wall a few inches could give you just enough room to properly position your monitor.
Finally, adjust the brightness on your monitor to match the surrounding light. Lighting in your home office is a personal choice and can be adjusted to your own comfort. In the workplace, you pretty much get what you get, though you can add task lighting. Whatever the case, the intensity of light from your monitor should match that of the rest of the room. Desk-lamp lighting in task areas for paperwork and note taking should not be so bright that your eyes struggle to adjust to varying light conditions as your focus moves from your computer screen to your calendar to your paperwork. The less work your eyes have to do when switching between tasks, the more you will reduce the symptoms of eye strain.
Dr. Jeff Pinkerton
I care for you.