Knowledge workers, whether out of need or out of habit, tend to abuse their eyes. I know, because I’m guilty of doing it, and my nearsightedness has gotten progressively worse since I started working. The only way to slow it down is to take better care of my eyes.
But those with existing eye problems aren’t the only ones who need to pay more attention to eye care. Long hours spent staring at a computer screen lead to headaches and eye fatigue — and who needs that?
One of the more common risks of extensive computer use is eye strain. You know you’re experiencing this when your eyes feel sore or tired, sometimes to the point of causing pain. Sometimes your eyes may end up being watery, or they may feel too dried out; the symptoms vary from person to person. If your eyes feel discomfort after a visual task, such as reading or watching TV, then you’re experiencing eye strain.
When eye strain is ignored and you don’t take care of your eyes in general, you may increase your risk of having more serious eye problems, such as myopia (nearsightedness) or glaucoma.
Resting Tired Eyes
The key to preventing eye strain is to take breaks throughout your workday. This can be difficult, especially during stressful days with heavy workload or even those days where we feel very motivated to work and we simply want to take advantage of the burst of inspiration; it’s hard to pull ourselves away from our computers. This is where reminders come in. You can use a simple kitchen timer or even install break reminder apps. As long as you step away from the screen every hour or so, you can minimize your risk for eye strain.
The best thing to do during this break is to spend some time outdoors. This allows us to focus our eyes on far objects. Natural light also helps children prevent myopia, but it’s unclear how beneficial sunlight is to adult eyes.
If going outside is not an option, do eye relaxation exercises. I’ve covered a couple of exercises in a previous post.
Also, don’t forget to blink! This may sound like common sense but people who are too focused on surfing the web or reading forget to blink regularly, causing their eyes to dry out. The problem is common enough that a Japanese company has created USB-powered glasses that force the wearer to blink frequently.
Prevention and Protection
If you want to protect your eyes and prevent long term damage, the first place you should look at is your home office. Whether it’s just a desk in the kitchen or a separate room, you should start by making sure your workspace is properly lit. Any glare and harsh contrasts in your environment can contribute to your eye strain.
You should also be aware of your monitor’s settings if the light in your workspace changes throughout the day. Tweaking your monitor’s brightness and contrast based on the ambient light helps reduce eye strain. If you want a detailed guide on how to do this, check out Charles Poynton’s extensive article on the matter.
It might also help to lessen our dependency on the computer screen, if possible. Since I’m a freelance writer, I sometimes use speech recognition software so I can speak my first draft into a microphone rather than stare at the screen. For visually dependent tasks such as graphic design, tough, this kind of workaround isn’t really possible, although perhaps you could try sketching onto paper instead of working on screen for some of the time.
Finally, we should all regularly take eye exams. By consulting an eye doctor, we can prevent major problems as well as track the health of our eyes over the years.
How has being a web worker affected your eyesight? How do you protect and rest your eyes?
Photo by stock.xchng user Henkster