On your screen for more than 3 hours a day? Treat your 'computer vision syndrome'

Reduce eye strain with a few simple changes

Spending more than three hours a day in front of a computer may result in symptoms of "computer vision syndrome," Jane Brody reports for the New York Times' "Well."

Extensive computer use can contribute to a host of health problems, including neurological symptoms like chronic headaches and musculoskeletal problems such as neck and back pain. But the most prominent complaints are vision-related, with many workers suffering from blurred or double vision, as well as burning, itching, dryness, and redness.

Up to 70 million workers are at risk for computer vision syndrome, with the list expected to increase. The disorder can affect virtually anyone who "cannot work without the help of [a] computer," according to a report published in Medical Practice and Reviews

Which office design is best for workers?

There are several reasons why computer screens are so harsh on the eyes. It's more difficult for eyes to maintain focus on electronic characters, and forcing the eyes to adjust creates eyestrain and fatigue. Working on a computer also reduces the frequency of blinking, which can lead to dry, irritated eyes. In addition, the distance of one's head from the screen and position in relation to it affects comfort and productivity.

The following tips can help prevent computer vision syndrome:

Maintain some distance

Situate yourself so that your eyes are about 20 to 26 inches away from the computer screen, with your eyes aligned with the top of the monitor when looking straight ahead. The University of Pennsylvania's department of ophthalmology recommends that your eyes be about four to eight inches lower than the center of the monitor. This position helps lessen dryness and itching by reducing the exposed surface of the eyes and also allows the neck to relax more.

Reduce poor lighting and glare

Opt for contrast with black writing on a white screen. Also make sure that your screen is brighter than the ambient light. You can keep sunlight out by repositioning your desk, using a dimmer switch on overhead lights, or lowering window shades. Cut back on glare by using a flat screen with an antiglare cover or wearing glare-reducing or tinted lenses.

Adjust your display

Use a monitor with a high-resolution display to make images sharper and crisper, and keep your monitor clean with an antistatic dust cloth. Also choose a font that's easy for you to read.

Make printed documents easier on the eyes

If you switch between your computer screen and printed materials, keep your papers on a stand next to the monitor to minimize neck strain. And if you tend to look at many printed documents at once, consider investing in bifocal or progressive-lens glasses to help you transition from reading on a screen to reading on paper.

Take a break

Give your eyes a rest on a regular basis. Follow the 20-20-20 rule, stopping every 20 minutes to take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away.

Keep your eyes hydrated

It may seem unnatural, but consciously blinking as much as possible can minimize the risk of dry eyes. You can also keep your eyes lubricated with eye drops or a humidifier (Brody, "Well," New York Times, 5/30).

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