How to Avoid Eye Strain when Working from Home

Avatar of Molly Stoneman Molly Stoneman | Nov 20, 2020
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Let’s face it, today’s work environment runs on screens.

Since the average American spends over 7 hours per day in front of a screen, blue light exposure can contribute to Digital Eye Strain (DES). Here’s why: After blue light enters your eyes it scatters. Your eyes then have to work extra hard to focus that scattered light, which can contribute to repetitive strain.

A 2016 report by The Vision Council found that 65% of Americans experience symptoms of Digital Eye Strain (DES), which includes eye fatigue and discomfort, dry eyes, headaches, blurred vision, neck and shoulder pain, eye twitching and red eyes. This is no wonder, when 90% of Americans use digital devices for 2+ hours per day, and 60% use digital devices for 5+ hours per day.

Meanwhile, 77% of people also use two or more devices simultaneously, and women are more likely to do so. (Mind you, this study was in 2016, and digital usage has only increased since then and with the onset of coronavirus lockdowns.)

How does this affect your productivity? A research study conducted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Optometry found a direct correlation between proper vision and productivity. Subjects with improper vision took more time to perform a task, and were more likely to make mistakes, especially with complex/repetitive computer tasks. Importantly, subjects were not always aware their vision was impaired; even minor and unnoticeable vision problems were shown to affect productivity by up to 20% and to cause an increase in mistakes.

How can you remain effective and healthy when your work relies on screens? Try these tips:

Let there be (healthy) light

Eye strain from screens can be made worse by excessively bright light, either from outdoor sunlight or harsh interior office lighting. When you use a computer, your surrounding lighting should be about half as bright as what is typically found in most offices.

Eliminate exterior light by closing drapes, shades, or blinds. Reduce interior lighting by keeping the room softly lit using fewer light bulbs, or lower intensity bulbs. (Which can save energy costs, too!)

If possible, try to position your computer screen so that windows and main light sources are to the side, instead of in front or behind the screen.

Let there be (healthy) light.

Adjust display settings

Adjusting the display settings of your computer, tablet, or phone can help reduce eye fatigue, including:

  • Brightness: Adjust your screen brightness so that it is approximately the same as the brightness of your surrounding workstation. As a test, look at the white background of a generic Web page; if it is lighter than your background, it's too bright, and if it seems dull or gray, it may be too dark.
  • Text size and contrast: Adjust your screen’s text size and contrast, especially when writing or reading long documents. White print on a dark background has shown positive results for comfort.
  • Color temperature:  Reduce the color temperature of your display so that it appears more orange-red, which lowers the amount of blue light emitted for better more comfort and productivity.

Adjust display settings.

Minimize glare

Glare from your screen’s light reflecting off walls and surfaces can worsen Digital Eye Strain. Consider placing an anti-glare screen cover over your display and, if possible, paint bright white walls a darker color with a matte finish.

If you wear glasses, purchase lenses with anti-reflective (AR) coating. AR coating reduces glare by minimizing the amount of light reflecting off the front and back surfaces of your eyeglass lenses.

The worst problems are generally from sources above or behind you, including fluorescent lighting and sunlight. Consider turning off some or all of the overhead lights, and use an adjustable desk lamp to optimize for less glare.

Minimize glare.

Blink more often

When staring at a screen, people blink less frequently—only about one-third as often as they normally do—and many blinks performed during computer work are only partial lid closures, according to studies.

Blinking is especially important when working at a computer, since it coats the eyes with tears, and blinking less frequently results in dry eyes. If you tend to get dry eyes while working, try this exercise: every 20 minutes, blink 10 times by closing your eyes as if falling asleep (very slowly).

Some people find relief from dry eye symptoms with artificial tears. However, be careful not to confuse lubricating eye drops with the drops formulated to "get the red out." These drops make your eyes look better by reducing blood vessel dilation, but they are not necessarily formulated to reduce dryness and irritation.

If you still experience dry eyes, consider making your improving your air quality. Using a humidifier, adjusting the thermostat to reduce blowing air, and avoiding windy work spaces may help reduce the amount of dry air hitting your eyes.

Blink more often.

Try these eye exercises

Reduce your risk of eyes strain frequently focusing away from your screen with exercises like:

  • The 20-20-20 Rule: Look away from your computer at least every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object (at least 20 feet away) for at least 20 seconds. Looking far away relaxes the muscles inside the eye to reduce fatigue.
  • The 10-15-10 Rule: Look far away at an object for 10-15 seconds, then gaze at something up close for 10-15 seconds. Then look back at the distant object. Do these 10 times, every 30 minutes or so. This exercise reduces the risk of your eyes "locking up" on one focus zone after prolonged computer work.
  • Limit screen time: Simple as it sounds, a cap on your screen time per day is the most effective way to limit extended exposure to blue light. This is especially important for children, who need to rest their eyes regularly.

Take frequent stretch breaks

Reduce your risk for Digital Eye Strain and neck, back and shoulder pain with frequent screen breaks during your work day. This Autonomous stretching guide provides 10 easy exercises to move your arms, legs, back, neck, and shoulders to reduce tension and fatigue. Try to take a stretch or walking break for at least 10 minutes once per hour.

Take frequent stretch breaks.

Modify your workstation

Most people adjust their bodies closer to the screen for long reading, rather than keeping a distance and enlarging text. Position your computer screen 20-24 inches from your eyes (about arm’s length), with the center of your screen about 10-15 degrees below your eyes for head and neck comfort. Adjust your workstation and chair to the correct height so your feet rest comfortably on the floor, allowing for good posture.

It helps to have a desk and chair you can easily adjust too. The SmartDesk 4 is Autonomous.ai’s latest smart desk which is equipped with easy controls to lower and raise desk height, as well as connect to the Autonomous app for customized height settings and sit-stand reminders. Also, check out this guide for tips on selecting the most customizable and supporting ergonomic chair for your remote work setup.

Modify your workstation.

Digital distancing applies to your phone, too! When using a phone, adults are encouraged to hold devices at arm’s length. Children should hold devices as far away from their eyes as is comfortable.

If you need to look back and forth between a printed page and your computer screen, reduce how much your eyes need to readjust and how often you turn your neck and head. Place the written pages on a well-lit document stand adjacent to your screen, ensuring this light doesn’t result in direct light shining into your eyes or causing glare on your computer screen.

If you have the ability to upgrade your display screen, select one with the highest resolution possible for sharper images. Also, choose a relatively large display; for a desktop computer, optometrists recommend a diagonal screen size of at least 19 inches.

Try some apps

A number of apps are available to help reduce blue light emission from devices, like F.Lux or ProtectYourVision, among others.

Consider computer glasses

For those who already wear prescription glasses, you might consider asking your optometrist to modify your eyeglasses prescription to create customized computer glasses. These glasses can reduce glare, and adjust your prescription for short distance reading (as with a computer). This is especially true if you normally wear contact lenses, which may become dry and uncomfortable during extended screen time.

For those with or without corrective lenses, consider blue light glasses, which are increasingly trendy and can be applied to non-prescription eyewear for a relatively cheap price. Ask your eye doctor for details and advice.

Consider computer glasses.

Get a comprehensive eye exam

Of course, no change in lighting or eye exercises can replace an annual trip to the eye doctor. (Especially for children.)

During your exam, be sure to tell your eye doctor how often you use a computer and digital devices at work and at home. Measure how far your eyes are from your screen when you sit at your computer, and bring this measurement to your exam so your eye doctor can test your eyes at that specific working distance.

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WRITTEN BYMolly Stoneman

Freelancer passionate about design, travel, and innovation.

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