Many of us are spending more time on screens than ever before, as a growing number of social interactions take place online, along with work and school for many individuals. This prolonged exposure to digital devices can be hard on the eyes. Perhaps you’ve experienced achy eyes, blurred vision, headaches, or other symptoms of eye strain and screen fatigue yourself. The good news? There are steps you can take to lighten the load on your eyes and protect your vision.
Top causes of eye strain
The causes of eye strain are twofold. First, your eyes have to work harder to see something close up, specifically the ciliary muscle, which contracts to support your focus. Hours of concentration on a single object causes that muscle to ache. This frequently occurs with screen use — which is why eye strain is often referred to as digital eye strain, screen fatigue, or computer vision syndrome — but it can also result from intense use of your eyes in other contexts. (The 20-20-20 rule, explained in more detail below, should come in handy for long reading sessions, too!)
Then there’s the effects of blue light, which is specific to screen-related eye strain. Digital devices like computers and mobile phones emit blue light to enhance the quality of images on your screen and help you stay alert. While this mimics the sun’s natural wavelengths, absorbing this high-energy light up close for an extended period of time strains your eyes. Not only does this contribute to screen fatigue, it can potentially damage your retina, the part of your eye that processes light and communicates to your brain.
Preventing eye strain and screen fatigue
Simple precautions can protect your eyes from screen fatigue, from the set-up of your home workspace to nutrition choices. Try the following to start.
Keep a healthy distance
The closer you are to a screen, the harder your ciliary muscle is working, so be sure there’s enough distance between your eyes and your computer screen. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends sitting about 25 inches from the screen, roughly an arm’s length away.
Limit blue light exposure
There are a variety of blue light-blocking tools that minimize its negative effects, including screen protectors for tablets, laptops, TVs, and phones. You may also want to ask your optometrist or ophthalmologist if blue light-filtering glasses would be a good fit for your needs. If you and your doctor have decided that these glasses are right for you, remember to put them on every time you use your computer, TV, or another digital device so that you can experience their full benefits.
Limiting your exposure to blue light becomes even more important later in the night, as it can affect your production of melatonin, potentially disrupting your sleep cycle. Many electronic devices give you the ability to shift your display to warmer colors more conducive to sleep, so be sure to make the switch before scrolling from bed. (Ditching screens before bedtime altogether is even better!)
Along with blue light, glare from a screen can also lead to eye strain. Be mindful of your computer or TV screen’s brightness in comparison to your surroundings, as high contrast between screen brightness and room lighting can strain your eyes. You may have to adjust these settings a couple times each day as the sun changes position. If using a laptop, tilting your screen so that your gaze is pointed downward may also help.
Give your eyes a break
The less time spent staring at a screen, the better — for your eyes, your sleep, and other aspects of your overall health. But if work or school makes it difficult for you to step away from the screen for long periods of time, even short breaks help. Use the 20-20-20 rule to let your eyes rest: take a break every 20 minutes and look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Load up on nutrients
A balanced diet can combat the effects of blue light. Omega-3 fatty acids — found in nuts, seeds, and fish like tuna and salmon — and beta carotene — found in vegetables like pumpkin, carrots, and sweet potatoes — are known to boost eye health. Green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach contain both beta carotene and Vitamin E, another nutrient that can protect your vision.
Stay current with annual vision check-ups
You may be more susceptible to eye strain when other unaddressed vision issues are present, so be sure to go in for regular eye appointments. Even if your vision is strong, it’s still important to have a full check-up every year as part of your overall preventative care.
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This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.