How to Help Your Eyes Recover From Staring at Screens

By Ann Pietrangelo
Ann Pietrangelo
Ann Pietrangelo
February 20, 2017 Updated: February 20, 2017

Sixty-five percent of Americans report having symptoms of digital eyestrain. And it’s no wonder. Almost 60 percent of us use digital devices for more than five hours a day, and 70 percent of use more than two devices at a time.

These startling figures come from The Vision Council’s report, Eyes Overexposed: The Digital Device Dilemma. The report also found that despite the fact than 90 percent of us use digital devices for more than two hours a day, most of us don’t talk to our eye doctors about our digital device use.

“With the popularity of computers in the workplace and increased usage of smartphones and TVs, it has become more and more common to see patients with numerous eye complaints attributed to their computer monitors,” Cary M. Silverman, M.D., founder of EyeCare 20/20, told Care2.

“There is no evidence that working on a computer can cause permanent damage to the eye, either from radiation or eyestrain,” he said. “Most ocular complaints are due to other factors such as seating, head position, location of terminal, reflections, lighting, and the quality of the display images.”

Here are some tips on how to help your eyes recover from staring at screens:

1.Don’t Forget to Blink! Follow the 20-20-20 Rule

You don’t give much thought to blinking. Your eyes seem to know what to do. However, when you stare at a screen for long periods, you probably don’t realize you’re not blinking as often as you should. That can lead to dry, irritated eyes. Think: blink. And follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. 

2. Keep Your Distance and Adjust Accordingly

Dr. Justin Bazan, a medical advisor to The Vision Council, offers these tips:

Don’t get too close to the computer screen. When the text on a screen is too small, we tend to lean forward towards the screen, putting extra strain on our neck and back. It is ideal to sit an arm’s-length away from the computer screen, and to help out your vision by making the text larger. It can also be useful to wear computer lenses that have a special boost for the mid-distance range of the screen.

Don’t look down at your smartphone under the table. When you tilt your head forward to look at your phone, you put a lot of added weight and pressure on your neck — a culprit for serious symptoms of digital eye strain. When using handheld devices, make sure to keep them at a comfortable distance, and just below eye level.

Tilting your computer screen can also be hard on your neck and back — it is best to position your screen so that it is directly in front of your face and slightly below eye level. This keeps eyes at a relaxed position that promotes more frequent blinking.

3. Adjust Your Lighting

Optometrist Dr. Kennith Guthrie offers this lighting tip:

Ideally, you would like to avoid glare from overhead lights or the sun by positioning your monitor in the most glare resistant angle. If the glare in unavoidable, you might consider investing in a glare-resistant monitor to relieve the strain. You can also tone down the brightness and increase contrast to make the screen easier on your eyes.

4. Take a Break From Contact Lenses

Optician Emmanuel Aboucaya, founder of Oren Isaac Eyewear, offers this tip for contact lens wearers:

If you wear soft contact lenses, they may be sticking too close to your cornea. Your cornea needs to “breathe,” so in order to avoid complications or other medical issues (that can sometimes lead to blindness), do NOT wear contact lenses more than 8 to 10 hours a day, and try to take them off completely one day a week.

5. Keep Those Eyedrops Handy

Over-the-counter lubricating drops and artificial tears can soothe dry, tired eyes. If you use them often, look for products that don’t have preservatives. According to the Mayo Clinic, eyedrops that have a redness remover may make dry eye even worse. Ask your eye doctor which eye drops are best.

6. Go Easy on the A/C

Air conditioning can dry your eyes. So can fans that are directed toward your face. If you’re also staring at screens all day, that’s a recipe for dry, irritated eyes. Try to limit your A/C use if you can.

7. Give Your Eyes Professional TLC

Vision changes can happen so gradually that you don’t notice you’ve got a problem. Get your eyes checked every year — or any time you think you may be developing a vision problem. It’s a good idea to tell your doctor how you use digital devices so corrective eyewear will match your needs.

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