How much time do you spend in front of the computer? While eDiets members know first-hand many of the benefits that being online can provide, extensive computer work can take its toll on your eyes. Imagine having to hold your arm straight out in front of you for an extended period of time without moving it. That's the kind of strain that extended computer use puts on the muscles responsible for focusing your eyes, according to natural vision-care expert Martin Sussman.
"Sixty to ninety percent of computer users suffer from some form of eye strain," says Sussman, who is the director of the Cambridge Institute for Better Vision. Sussman conducts classes and workshops throughout North America to teach people simple ways to prevent computer-induced eyestrain. According to Sussman, such eyestrain can lead to worsening vision, neck and shoulder stiffness, fatigue and stress headaches. "When you are working at the computer, you are usually concentrating," says Sussman. "Your breath becomes more shallow, which leads to a build-up of lactic acid in the body. Your field of vision decreases, as you become overly focused on the screen."
Since computer use is a reality of modern life, Sussman offers 7 basic tips to help computer users preserve their vision:
1. Look away from the screen regularly. "Computer work requires your eyes to focus at the same distance for extended periods of time," says Sussman. "If you were holding your arm straight out in front of you, putting it down every few seconds would help relieve the tension. The same thing is true with your eyes. Shift your focus and look off into the distance." Sussman says focusing on an object far away, such as the water cooler down the hall or a tree outdoors, is a simple stretching exercise for your eye muscles. If you are in a cubicle, Sussman suggests putting a pocket mirror on top of your computer. "Looking into a mirror will have the same effect as looking off into the distance."
2. Position your monitor properly. "Ideally, your monitor should be at least 18-24 inches away from your eyes," says Sussman. "Your line of sight should also be above the computer screen." Sussman says people should make their desk and keyboard fit their bodies. "When you work on the computer, it is important to keep your posture upright," says Sussman. "The angle of your joints is also critical. Your wrists should be below your elbows. Your knees should be below your hips. Your feet should be on the floor. You may even want to put the keyboard on your lap some of the time."
3. Use friendly lighting. According to Sussman, bright fluorescent lights are a poor choice. Dimmer lights are better for your eyes. "Your computer screen emits light by itself," says Sussman. "Therefore, the room should be lit with indirect, dim light." If you do work in an office with fluorescent lighting, Sussman recommends you position your computer screen perpendicular to the line of light. He also suggests that you use a desk lamp for reading and doing other close work at your desk.
4. Minimize glare on the computer screen. "If you see a lot of reflected images on the screen before you turn your computer on, you have glare," says Sussman. He recommends blocking excessive sunlight by using window shades, blinds or drapes. Antiglare screen guards and hoods can also be effective. Or, Sussman says, you can always move your computer to a part of the room where sunlight doesn’t cause glare on the screen.
5. Take regular, short breaks. According to Sussman, taking a 5-minute break every hour helps to reduce eye strain. Break time provides a good opportunity to oxygenate your blood with some whole-body stretches, hydrate with a drink of water and relax by taking some deep breaths. All of these activities help support good eye health.
6. Blink more often. Computer rooms are notoriously dry, and blinking is your body's natural way to lubricate your eyes and prevent them from getting dry.
7. Position yourself directly in front of the computer. If you position yourself off to the side, you will cause unnecessary strain to your eye and neck muscles.
Sussman is one of the authors of the book Total Health at the Computer. The book lists over two dozen symptoms of eyestrain, along with quick solutions for alleviating these problems.
If you do heavy computer work and are in your 40’s or 50’s, you may also be a candidate for The Read Without Glasses Method. Sussman developed this method along with his colleague Dr. Ray Gottlieb. The Read Without Glasses Method provides a series of exercises to help you reverse the effects of middle-age sight. While many people have had success with these eye exercises, it should be noted that this method is not for everyone. People with a lazy eye, eye turning problems and other visual impairments can not perform these exercises.