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A pain in the eye

While it’s unlikely to cause permanent damage, eye strain does affect your ability to work effectively or productively and can be a real pain. Eye strain caused by computer use is called computer vision syndrome and occurs in as many as 90% of computer users.

Symptoms include dry, red, burning or irritated eyes; blurred or double vision; headaches, neck and shoulder pain. While you may not be able to cut back on your time in front of your computer screen, there are some ways to reduce the possibility of succumbing to this irritating syndrome:

  • Position Place your screen at arm’s length and directly in front of you. Also, ensure it’s around 10-20 centimetres below your seated eye level – this will allow your neck to relax while you’re working
  • Good lighting Create a visor with your hands, as if shielding your eyes from bright sunlight. If your eyes immediately feel better, they you’ll know your lighting needs to be changed. Experiment with brighter or dimmer lighting to see what works best
  • Get rid of the glare Avoid placing your computer where there’s a glare from direct sunlight or a bright white wall. If you’re unsure, look at your screen when it’s off, or with a blank, dark background – you’ll be able to see where light is reflecting so you can adjust your position accordingly
  • Keep it clean Dusty screens reduce their crispness, causing you to strain even more to focus
  • Blink often Remember to blink often to keep your eyes from drying out
  • Moisturise Air that’s too dry could exacerbate the symptoms – if you can’t avoid air conditioning, keep a bowl of water nearby to ensure there’s some moisture circulating.

The Mayo Clinic offers the following exercises to reduce eye strain:

  • With your elbows on your desk and palms facing up, fall forward until your head is in your hands (eyebrows resting on your palms, fingers extending to your forehead). With your eyes closed, take a deep breath and hold it for four seconds. Repeat for 15-30 seconds. Do this regularly throughout your working day
  • Gently massage your upper lid against your brow for around 10 seconds. Then do the same with your lower lid and cheek bone. This can stimulate your tear ducts, assisting with dry eyes, and relaxes the muscles around your eye, reducing some of the symptoms of eye strain.

References include

1 Penn Medicine. Computer Vision Syndrome. http://www.pennmedicine.org/ophth/conditions/cvs.html#symptoms Sept 2012
2 Chu C, Rosenfield M, et al. A comparison of symptoms after viewing text on a computer screen and hardcopy. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. Jan 2011;31(1):29-32
3 Izquierdo J, Garcia M, et al. Factors leading to the Computer Vision Syndrome: an issue at the contemporary workplace. Bol Asoc Med P R. Mar 2004;96(2):103-10
4 Mayo Clinic. Eye Strain. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/eyestrain/DS01084/ DSECTION=prevention Sep 2012

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