Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is almost inevitable to people who spend hours daily in front of a computer screen.
Sometimes, simply rearranging your work environment to create better ergonomics is all you may need to do to reduce eye strain and other vision problems related to CVS. In some cases, a good pair of computer eyeglasses may help you see better at just the right distance range needed for viewing a computer screen.
10 Steps for Relief from Computer Eye Strain
With so many of us using computers at work, computer eye strain has become one of the major office-related health complaints. Studies show that eye strain and other bothersome visual symptoms occur in 50 percent to 90 percent of computer workers.
Here are steps both workers and employers can take to reduce computer eye strain and the other common symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS):
1. Get a computer eye exam
This is the most important thing you can do to prevent or treat computer vision problems. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), computer users should have an eye exam before they start working on a computer and once a year thereafter.
2. Use proper lighting.
Eye strain is often caused by excessively bright light either from outdoor sunlight coming in through a window or from harsh interior lighting. When you use a computer, your ambient lighting should be about half that found in most offices.
Eliminate exterior light by closing drapes, shades or blinds. Reduce interior lighting by using fewer light bulbs or fluorescent tubes, or use lower intensity bulbs and tubes. If possible, position your monitor so that windows are to the side of it, instead of in front or back.
Glare on walls and finished surfaces, as well as reflections on the computer screen can also cause computer eye strain. You may want to install an anti-glare screen on your monitor and, if possible, paint bright white walls a darker color with a matte finish.
4. Upgrade your display
If you have not already done so, replace your old tube-style monitor with a flat-panel liquid crystal display (LCD), like those on laptop computers. LCD screens are easier on the eyes and usually have an anti-reflective surface.
5. Adjust the brightness and contrast of your computer screen
Adjust the display settings on your computer so the brightness of the screen is about the same as your work environment. As a test, try looking at the white background of this web page. If it looks like a light source, it’s too bright. If it seems dull and gray, it may be too dark.
6. Blink more often
Blinking is very important when working at a computer; it rewets your eyes to avoid dryness and irritation.
Try this exercise: Every 20 minutes, blink 10 times by closing your eyes as if falling asleep (very slowly). This will help rewet your eyes.
7. Exercise your eyes
A component of computer eye strain is focusing fatigue. To reduce your risk of tiring your eyes by constantly focusing on your screen, look away from your computer every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object outside or down the hallway. Looking far away relaxes the focusing muscles inside the eye to reduce fatigue.
8. Take frequent breaks
To reduce your risk for computer vision syndrome and neck, back and shoulder pain, take frequent breaks during your computer work day. According to a recent study, discomfort and eye strain were significantly lower when computer workers took four additional five-minute “mini-breaks” throughout their work day.
9. Modify your workstation
If you need to look back and forth between a printed page and your computer screen, this can cause eye strain. Place written pages on a copy stand adjacent to the monitor. Light the copy stand properly. You may want to use a desk lamp, but make sure it doesn’t shine into your eyes or onto the computer screen.
10. Consider computer eyewear
For the greatest comfort at your computer, you may benefit from having a customized eyeglasses prescription for your computer work. This is especially true if you normally wear contact lenses, which may become dry and uncomfortable during sustained computer work.
FAQ for Computer Vision Syndrome and Computer Glasses
Computer eye strain affects more than 70 percent of the approximately 143 million Americans who work on a computer on a daily basis, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA).
And eye strain and other symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS) don’t occur only in adults. Millions of children work at a computer every day, either at home or in school. Prolonged computer use can stress a child’s eyes and may affect normal vision development.
What Are the Symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome?
If you or your child spend more than two hours per day in front of a computer screen, it’s likely you will experience some degree of computer vision syndrome. Symptoms of CVS include:
- Loss of focus
- Burning eyes
- Tired eyes
- Double vision
- Blurred vision
- Neck and shoulder pain
What Causes Computer Vision Syndrome?
Computer eye strain and computer vision syndrome are caused by our eyes and brain reacting differently to characters on a computer screen than they do to printed characters. Our eyes have little problem focusing on printed material that has dense black characters with well-defined edges. But characters on a computer screen don’t have the same degree of contrast and definition.
Words on a computer screen are created by combinations of tiny points of light (pixels), which are brightest at the center and diminish in intensity toward their edges. This makes it more difficult for our eyes to maintain focus on these images. Instead, our eyes want to drift to a reduced level of focusing called the “resting point of accommodation” or RPA.
Our eyes involuntarily move to the RPA and then strain to regain focus on the screen. This continuous flexing of the eyes’ focusing muscles creates the fatigue and eye strain that commonly occur during and after computer use.
What Can I Do About It?
To reduce your risk of computer eye strain and computer vision syndrome, see an eye care professional who specializes in computer vision care. During a computer vision exam, your eye doctor will perform tests to detect any vision problems that might contribute to CVS. Depending on the outcome of the exam, your doctor may prescribe computer eyeglasses to help you work more comfortably at your computer.
In addition to increasing comfort during computer use, recent studies have shown that computer eyeglasses can increase computer worker productivity, with cost savings to employers who provide the eyewear.
Will Glare Screens Prevent CVS?
Anti-glare filters for computer screens may increase comfort somewhat, but they will not solve all your computer vision problems. These filters only reduce glare from reflections on the computer screen and do not reduce the visual problems related to the constant refocusing of your eyes when you work at a computer.
In order to reduce computer-related eye strain effectively, you would usually need computer eyewear to help your eyes focus on your screen more comfortably. An anti-reflective coating is highly recommended for computer eyeglasses. AR coating reduces reflections on the front and back surfaces of the lenses that cause glare and interfere with your ability to focus on images on your screen. Read more about reducing computer glare. Using proper computer eyewear can prevent eye strain.
Will Computer Eyeglasses Make the Screen Clearer?
Yes, because computer glasses eliminate the constant refocusing effort that your eyes go through when viewing the screen. It has also been proven clinically that having the correct prescription in computer eyeglasses increases productivity and accuracy.
Do Computer Eyeglasses Look Like Safety glasses?
No. Almost any style of frame can be used for computer glasses.
What Kinds of Lenses Are Prescribed for Computer Glasses?
The best type of lenses for computer glasses usually depends on your age. If you are in your 40s or older, it’s likely you have some degree of presbyopia. If so, multifocal lenses will usually be your best choice because they provide better depth of focus than single vision lenses. This will let you see your computer screen clearly and also see objects that are closer and farther away than your screen.
Single vision lenses can also be a good solution for computer glasses, though your depth of focus will be more limited with these lenses if you are presbyopic. Your eye doctor will help you decide whether multifocal or single vision lenses are the best solution for your work environment and your visual needs.
What About Tints for Computer Lenses?
Computer lenses with a mild tint may be a good choice if you work in a brightly lit office. Lightly tinted lenses will reduce the amount of light entering your eyes to more comfortable levels and may help reduce eye strain.
But be aware that tints alone don’t address the underlying cause of computer eyestrain, which is focusing fatigue.
Does Every Computer User Need Computer Glasses?
With studies suggesting that most computer users experience some level of eye discomfort from computer work, it’s reasonable to say that most people who work on a computer more than a couple hours daily could benefit from computer eyewear.
If you experience tired eyes, overall fatigue or discomfort when working at your computer, schedule a computer vision exam. Your eye doctor can help you decide if computer eyeglasses are right for you.
If I Don’t Have Symptoms of CVS, Do I Still Need Computer Eyewear?
Maybe. According to a study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry, computer users who are not experiencing computer vision syndrome symptoms may also benefit from computer glasses.
The study found that computer workers with no visual complaints may still experience reduced productivity and accuracy at the computer. So even if you don’t notice eye strain or other symptoms of CVS, it’s a good idea to get an eye exam from a computer vision specialist if you spend a good amount of time each day in front of a computer.
Will Insurance Pay for Computer Glasses?
In some cases, some or all of the cost of computer glasses will be covered by vision insurance. If you have medical coverage, but not vision insurance, the cost of your computer vision exam may be covered by your medical carrier.
Some vision insurance policies will entitle you to an annual eye exam, which could be used to cover the computer vision exam and a portion of the cost of your computer eyewear. Also, be sure to check your employee benefits at work. Some companies provide eye exams and eyewear for their employees who work at computers.
Will My Reading Glasses Work at the Computer?
Reading glasses are usually not the best solution for computer use. Eyeglasses prescribed for reading typically will optimize your vision at a distance of 14 to 16 inches from your eyes, which is considered the standard reading distance. But for the greatest comfort, your computer screen should be positioned farther away — at a distance of 20 to 24 inches from your eyes. For the best vision at this distance, a different eyeglass prescription is usually required.
Does Computer Vision Syndrome Affect Worker Productivity?
Yes, research has shown that this is true. Even in cases when a computer worker’s vision correction is only slightly off, productivity and accuracy at the computer can still suffer.
And as the day progresses, these losses increase. Using your eyes to view a computer for many hours a day is analogous to your eye muscles being forced to do push-ups for hours and hours. Over time, muscle fatigue will significantly affect productivity, accuracy and comfort. Computer glasses can reduce eye fatigue and improve productivity.
Isn’t Ergonomics the Solution to Computer Eye Strain?
Ergonomics is important — changing your computer workstation to facilitate good posture can certainly help minimize some physical symptoms of CVS. But ergonomics alone cannot solve a visual problem. Wearing prescription computer eyeglasses is also required.
Will Wearing Computer Eyeglasses Make My Eyes Worse?
This is not true. In fact, wearing specially prescribed computer glasses when working at your computer may keep your eyes from getting worse by reducing excessive focusing demands on your eyes. This is particularly true for teenagers, whose eyes may be more susceptible to progressive nearsightedness from focusing fatigue.
Children and Computer vision Syndrome
The average American child now spends one to three hours per day on the computer doing homework, talking online with friends, and playing games. Parents encourage children as young as two or three years old to use the computer. In fact, 90 percent of school-age children have computer access at home or in school.
Many pediatric computer vision eye doctors believe that heavy computer use among children puts them at risk for early myopia. Sitting for hours in front of a computer screen stresses a child’s eyes because the computer forces the child’s vision system to focus and strain a lot more than any other task. Twenty years ago, most children played outside, and their distant vision was more important. Today, most children work at a computer either at home or school each day. Sitting in front of a computer and staring at a computer screen is causing vision problems that were not known years ago.
According to the American Optometric Association, the impact of computer use on children’s vision involves these factors:
Children have a limited degree of self-awareness. They may perform a task on the computer for hours with few breaks. This prolonged activity can cause eye focusing and eye strain problems.
Children are very adaptable. They assume that what they see and how they see is normal — even if their vision is problematic. That’s why it is important for parents to monitor the time a child spends working at a computer.
Children are smaller than adults. Since computer workstations are often arranged for adult use, this can change the viewing angle for children. Computer users should view the screen slightly downward, at a 15-degree angle.
Should you worry about how much time your child spends in front of the computer every day?
Five Tips for Preventing Computer Vision Syndrome in Children
Many pediatric eye doctors believe that environmental stress of the “near-point world” rather than heredity is creating the myopia (nearsightedness) epidemic. In fact, children using computers before their visual systems are fully developed are at the very heart of the public health problem called computer vision syndrome (CVS). To prevent your child from suffering from CVS, follow these five tips:
- Before starting school, every child should have a comprehensive eye exam, including near-point (computer and reading) and distance testing.
- Workstations should be arranged to suit a child — not an adult.
- The recommended distance between the monitor and the eye for children is 18-28 inches. By viewing the computer screen closer than 18 inches, children risk straining their eyes.
- Parents and teachers should be aware of any behavior that indicates potential problems, such as eye redness, frequent rubbing of the eyes, head turns and other unusual postures, or complaints of blurriness or eye fatigue. Avoidance of the computer may also be an indication of discomfort.
- Most importantly, have your child’s eyes examined by a computer vision specialist.