You do it when you check your email; you do it when you surf the web. In fact, you're probably doing it right now—straining your eyes in front of the computer.
Americans spend an average of 26 hours a week on their computers at work and at home. While these tools have helped to make the office more productive and the home more entertaining, that glowing box you're staring into for hours on end may be doing damage to your eyes.
A recent survey of optometrists found that more than 14 percent of patients complain of symptoms that stem from computer work. These symptoms include headaches, eyestrain, blurry vision, dry and irritated eyes, sensitivity to light and neck or backaches.
"Eye stress and strain may be caused by a combination of individual visual problems, improper viewing habits and poor environmental conditions, such as glare, improper workstation set up, dirty screens, poor lighting and viewing angles," says Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, an optometrist and author of Visual Ergonomics in the Workplace.
Anshel recommends the following tips to help prevent the vision problems associated with computer work:
Reduce glare. Avoid placing your computer in front of a window, as the difference in brightness from outside and your screen can strain your eyes. Also, make sure all windows have adjustable shades, so you can control the amount of light coming into the room. Anti-glare screens help, too, but "avoid the cheap ones," recommends Anshel. "They can make things worse."
Check your contacts. People blink about three times less frequently than normal when they are sitting in front of the computer. While infrequent blinking can cause dry eyes for everyone, it especially affects contact lens wearers. Try to use rewetting drops often, and speak to your optometrist if you find the problem continues.
Adjust your monitor. To minimize back and neck strain, the center of your monitor should be about five to nine inches below your line of sight. In other words, if you look straight ahead at your desk, you should be able to peer over the top of your monitor.
Take a break. Anshel recommends the 20/20/20 rule for visual breaks from computer work. "Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes," he says. "Focus your eyes on points at least 20 feet from your terminal. Keep your eyes moving while looking at various objects at various distances."
Most importantly, Anshel reminds everyone to see an eye doctor for routine eye exams. "Uncorrected or under-corrected vision problems can be a major contributing factor to computer-related eye stress," he says.