According to a recent survey conducted by Common Sense Media, the average American adult spends nearly nine and a half hours daily in front of various screens, from work computers to smartphones and tablets to televisions. So it’s hardly surprising that eyestrain—along with associated symptoms like headaches, dry eyes, blurry vision, and neck or shoulder pain—is a growing problem, affecting an estimated 50-90% of office workers.
Fortunately, it’s possible to mitigate the effects of eyestrain without having to swear off using your smartphone or your computer for good. Read on for some simple tips on how you can make long periods of screen time easier on your eyes.
One of the most important things you can do to help relieve eyestrain is to take regular breaks from your screen. This allows your eyes to rest and rehydrate, and helps you resume your screen work feeling more relaxed and refreshed. Ideally, experts recommend that you take a 15-minute break after every two hours of screen time. However, if you have a fast-paced job where taking those kinds of breaks isn’t possible, try aiming for at least four five-minute breaks during the day, in addition to a full half-hour break for lunch.
Give your eyes space.
This is a particularly important tip for smartphone users, who often hold their devices just inches from their face. Remember that the closer the screen is to your eyes, the more work they have to do to focus properly, and the greater the chances that you’ll feel the effects of eyestrain more quickly. Researchers recommend that your screen should never be closer than 16 inches (40 centimeters) from your face. If text is too hard to read or images are too difficult to see properly at that distance, consider zooming in or increasing the font size, rather than simply moving the screen closer.
Glare is one of the main causes of screen-related eyestrain. To reduce glare and mitigate its effects, make sure that you are always using your computer or your smartphone in a room with good, bright lighting. Eyestrain is quick to set in if your device’s screen is brighter than the ambient light in the room. You might also want to experiment with an anti-glare screen filter, which is available for both computer monitors and smartphones. In addition, those who wear glasses can opt for anti-reflective coating on their lenses for more protection.
Give your eyes some exercise.
Part of the reason why eyestrain is so common among computer workers and smartphone users is that the eyes are staring at the same spot for hours on end, which causes focusing fatigue. To help correct this, try the “20-20-20 rule” recommended by eye experts. Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen and spend at least 20 seconds focusing on an object at least 20 feet away. Looking at an object in the distance like this allows the focusing muscle in the eye to relax, which helps to reduce fatigue.
Blinking is normally one of the actions we do without even thinking about it, but if you’re a frequent screen user, you might need to put some more thought into your blinking. Whereas we usually blink about 15 times per minute, that rate drops by up to a third when we are looking at screens. A lower blinking rate means that the eyes dry out more quickly because the tears that coat the eye have more time to evaporate. To refresh your eyes, try the following exercise: every 20 minutes, blink slowly 10 times, fully closing your eyes, waiting a beat, and opening them. If you find this isn’t helping, you might also want to use artificial tears several times a day to keep your eyes well lubricated.
Keep your screen clean.
Your eyes will have a harder time focusing on your screen and will consequently become more fatigued and strained more quickly if dirt, dust, or debris are blurring or obscuring images and text. To ensure that everything on your screen stays as crisp and legible as possible, make sure you keep your screen clean. At least once a week, use a dry microfiber cloth (or a special cleaning cloth designed for screens) to thoroughly wipe down your device and remove fingerprints and other smudges from the screen.
Get your eyes tested regularly.
If you spend most of your day in front of screens, it’s a good idea to get a comprehensive eye exam every year so that any developing eye problems can be detected and treated before they get worse. As part of this exam, make sure you talk to your eye doctor about how often you use your smartphone and your computer, and how far away the screen usually is from your eyes. This will allow the doctor to test your vision at the distance that your eyes are most often working at.