Ask LH: How Do I Prevent Eyestrain At My Computer?

Dear Lifehacker, My job puts me in front of a computer from the moment I arrive until quitting time. How do you keep your eyes healthy when you have to stare at a screen all day? Sincerely, Worried About Eyestrain

Photo By jhayne.

Dear Worried About Eyestrain,

It's sad but true: even those of us who love technology are often forced to sit in front a computer screen all day at the office, and then we go home and sit in front of another screen, and go to bed – but not without checking a smaller screen first.

Luckily, there are a number of things you can do to make sure you avoid eyestrain: Identify the symptoms early, and give your eyes some relief when they start to bother you.

Identifying Eyestrain

Identifying eyestrain symptoms are easy: the difficult part is associating those symptoms with eyestrain, because they're so common. For example, if you feel dizziness, headache, lightheadedness, or twitching/spasms around your eyes, you're likely suffering from eyestrain. Tired or sore eyes, burning eyes when closed, headache, even nausea are all indications as well.

The problem is that most of us experience these symptoms and shrug them off as a hard day at the office. Instead, pay attention to the signals your body is sending you and do something about it. Photo by Bryan Gosline.

How Do I Relieve Eyestrain?

Take Frequent Breaks. While most of us can't afford to get up from the computer every half hour while we work, it is important to find time to stop for a few minutes and do something that doesn't involve looking at the screen. Go get a glass of water, or just do a lap around your cubicle, or talk to that person you were planning to send an email to. Your eyes will thank you.

Use Apps to Remind You. We've mentioned a number of apps that help you remember to get up and move around, like Awareness, WorkRave, Time Out, and ProtectYourVision. All of them will remind you periodically to move around or at least look out and focus somewhere else.

Observe the 20-20-20 Rule. Looking into the distance to let your eyes relax is called the 20-20-20 rule, and is an easy trick to remember to reduce eyestrain. The rule says that for every 20 minutes you spend staring at the computer, you should spend 20 seconds looking at objects 20 feet away – or at least far enough away that your eyes aren't working to focus.

Make it a Habit

Once you start observing the 20-20-20 rule, you'll find that it's easier to keep up with than you might think. Also, tweak the rule so it works for you – it's more important that you give your eyes a chance to rest regularly than that it's exactly 20 minutes. Pick a schedule that works for you and the way you work.

Also, making sure your workspace is ergonomic can go a long way to reducing eyestrain. Use our guide to ergonomically optimising your workspace to make sure your display is properly positioned. Small changes can do a lot of good, especially if you sit at your desk all day.

Finally, try to limit your computer use if at all possible, especially on off hours. It's hard to let go of our technology, but give your eyes a rest. Get up, go outside, take a walk, or read a book. Anything that takes your eyes off the screen.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

Cheers Lifehacker


Comments

    I tried WorkRave but found it annoying and unreliable. Have now switched to EyeDefender and it is perfect - tiny, simple and reminds in a soothing way

    http://www.eterlab.com/eyedefender/

    I work in print and have calibrated my screen to show colours as accurate as possible to what they will print out like.
    Because of this my screen is much duller and more of a natural/warmer light, compared to the brighter/cooler default.
    (Think of the difference between fluro lighting and a candescent lighting)
    Since i've made the change my eye's dont get anywhere near as strained as they used to.
    But I do now find normal screen overbearing.

    I've also calibrated my home computer in a similar way and have noticed that Mac screens are usually nicer to me by the end of the week.

    Killing nearby fluro lights makes a huge difference.

    One neat little app that I cannot recommend enough, is "F.lux" (http://stereopsis.com/flux/).

    F.lux works by adjusting the colour and hue (on a software level) of your display, based on the time of day and your geographical location - to match the light intensity and lighting coniditons of the environment around you. While it's not an alternative to the 20-20-20 rule, it works nicely as a companion, minimizing the amount of eyestrain caused in the first place.

    I turn the brightness of my monitors down to barely visible (on my current Dell's they are at 0).

    Ever since getting an IPS monitor I have found that it is much less straining on my eyes than a traditional LCD monitor. You don't get that sparkly/blurry picture which makes it easier to focus on the screen.

    Turning down the brightness and having a lot of soft ambient light also helps.

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