How to avoid eye strain

Like migraines, weak glutes, and depression, eye strain seems like just another part of modern day life we have to accept. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t end the work day by rubbing my eyes and blinking like a maniac.

There was, however, a time when it was much worse — when I wore contact lenses. My eyes would be instantly as dry as Ghandi’s flipflops if I simply made a sandwich or opened a window, never mind use a computer for five hours straight.

But thankfully, things aren’t that bad anymore. Laser Eye Surgery got rid of the troublesome eyewear, and a few practices and exercises (when I remember to do them) help keep my eyes healthy and moist throughout the working day.

Just like the other problems mentioned above that may, at first, seem intrinsically woven into 21st-century life, it’s actually pretty straightforward to prevent eye strain. The fact is, 99 percent of it comes down to issues with our environment, equipment, and habits. For instance, for migraines: maybe cut down on the coffee and sort out your posture. Weak glutes: try this killer exercise. And depression, well, maybe you need to find another job. 

The point is, everything about eye strain is changeable — all you need is a little know-how and willpower (we’ll provide the first if you bring the second).

1. Crank up your blinking rate

Every time you blink, your eyelids spread oils and mucus across the surface of your eyes to help prevent them from drying out. But when looking at a screen, you blink only about a third as often as you need to, supplementing with infrequent and lousy partial lid closures. 

To keep the eyes healthy and their inbuilt protection system running, make an effort to consciously up your blinking rate when using screens and devices. If your eyes are ever naturally wanting to close, remember, it may be your body’s way of protecting them from things such as overly bright lights and harmful particles in the air. 

2. Give your eyeballs a workout

We workout just about every other part of our body, but for some reason, we stop when it comes to the one part we use the most. It’s unsurprising then that a primary cause of eye strain is fatigue of the muscles in and around the eye.

Muscles particularly affected due to prolonged screen use are those used in focusing and reading text and images. To strengthen these muscles and reduce the chances of eye strain, make the 20-20-20 rule — taking a break every 20 minutes and gazing at a distant object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds — part of your daily routine.

Another exercise you can do is to look at an object in the distance for 10-15 seconds, gaze at something up close for the same amount of time, and repeat ten times. This exercise can prevent your eyes from ‘locking up’ (a condition known as accommodative spasm), a typical problem in prolonged computer work.

3. Turn down the lights and chill

One of the most common but easily avoidable causes of eye strain is poor lighting. For example, if you spend your days working at a computer, there may be excessively bright light streaming in through the window or pouring down from harsh interior lighting.

Best practices for computer use are to set ambient lighting at a level that is neither too weak or too strong, and therefore comfortable for your eyes. You can achieve this by using floor lamps that provide indirect lighting, reducing the number of bulbs and fluorescent tubes, and positioning your screen so that windows are to the side, instead of in front or behind. 

4. Bring your PC into the 21st century

If you’re still using an old tube-style monitor (otherwise known as a cathode ray tube or CRT), it’s about time you updated to a flat-panel liquid crystal display (LCD); not just to get with the times, but for the sake of your eye health.

LCD screens, found on modern day laptop computers, are much easier on the eyes for two reasons: they do away with the ‘flickering’ of images as a backlight controls pixels, and they often have an anti-reflective surface. If you opt for a model with the highest resolution as possible, you’ll also benefit from sharper images and give your eyes an ever easier ride.

5. Personalise your experience

On top of throwing your tube monitor out the window, adjusting the display settings of your screen can work wonders for reducing eye strain and fatigue.

Start by adjusting the brightness of your display so that it’s approximately the same as your surrounding environment. Your screen should blend as naturally as possible into the background so it’s not like you’re staring directly at the sun.

The next thing to do is change the text size and contrast to whatever feels most comfortable — particularly when doing work that involves intensive writing or reading. Everyone’s eyesight is different, and therefore, surprise surprise, the same default set up is not always ideal for everyone.

Lastly, change the colour temperature to minimise the amount of blue light emitting from your display. Blue light is short-wavelength visible light associated with eye strain and disrupting our circadian rhythm. By using filters that block it from the spectrum of visible light emitted by your screen, you can help avoid such problems and improve long-term viewing comfort.

5. Shoulders back and chest out

Most of us spend hours using our devices and screens in less than ideal positions and with poor ergonomics — like craning to watch YouTube on the tube or slouching over your laptop in coffee shops (*cough* *cough*). Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves, but with a little bit of preparation, it’s easy to avoid causing any significant damage.

The best thing you can do is, when working at a computer, use ergonomic furniture that supports your lower back and enables you to position yourself 20-24 inches away from your screen, with its centre about 10-15 degrees below eye level. This will not only help prevent your eyes from straining but your neck, shoulder, and back too. As for using your phone when walking down the street or using the loo, well, other than actually looking where you’re going and taking a digital-free dump, I can’t help you.