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
This article was originally posted on 6 July 2011. It has since been updated.
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 symptoms is 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, and 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.
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 and 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, such as Awareness 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 (6m) – 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!