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10 Rules and Tips for Avid Screen Users By Dr. M. Jafferji

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There is no denying that inevitably technology is carving a path where screen use is on an uptrend.  The future may be even more advanced with holography and virtual reality, but screens are here to stay. From computers to tablets to smartphones, screen use has become a practical necessity in all of our lives. The steps below will help you conquer visual fatigue, digital eye strain and reduce your chances of developing ocular surface disease such as dry eye and meibomian gland dysfunction. (Not all steps may be relevant depending on your personal and work lifestyle.)

Individuals that work in front of a computer screen for more than 2 hours continuously should follow these rules and tips:

  1. Always face forward. Adjust your body so it is facing directly in front of the keyboard and the screen. Avoid getting in a habit of twisting your body or your neck.  Organize the space around your computer so you can see things easily without bending or twisting.
  2. Make sure your chair is adjusted according to these guidelines:
    • Feet should be flat on the ground,
    • Legs at a right angle with your knees,
    • Arms near your sides,
    • Shoulders and neck relaxed,
    • Wrists slightly pointed down, and Back supported.

The right posture will reduce strain on your body and your eyes while increasing productivity.

3. The computer monitor should be positioned at the right focal length for best focus and should be standing slightly below your natural sight line. Looking above your natural sight line can fatigue the upper lids and cause visual fatigue and possibly tension type headaches called asthenopia.

4. Take pauses and breaks every 20-30 minutes. Look into the distance and consciously focus on objects for 15-20 seconds.  Looking at a distant object relaxes your accommodative focusing muscles. These pauses and breaks are even more essential for far-sighted individuals.  Not wearing your glasses when prescribed for farsightedness (focusing close) can also bring about visual fatigue and eye strain.

5. Periodically do blinking exercises. Squeeze your eyes shut without squishing your face and rapidly blink several times to restore and stabilize the tear film and freshen vision.  Blink action activates the meibomian glands that lines the upper and lower lid margins. It activates the release of meibum oil that coats the tear film and helps in slowing the evaporation of tears and thus reducing dry eye symptoms.

6. To help keep the meibomian glands functioning, apply hot eye compresses for 5-7 minutes 3-4 times a week. This helps to soften the oils and keeps the glands active. For effective hot compresses, use an eye mask (such as Bruder or I-Relief mask) with beads that produce moist heat for at least 5-7 minutes.

7. Stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle on your desk so you remember to drink it throughout the day.  Dehydration is known to cause headaches and dry eyes especially during the winter season when indoor heating is on.

8. Lighting in the work space should be overhead or behind the monitor.  Avoid glare from light sources on the screen. The brightness of the monitor should be equal or dimmer than the ambient room light but more importantly should feel comfortable. Turn on the blue filter on your monitor as well (i.e. Night Shift on iPhones).  Avoid sitting in a dark room while staring at a monitor or screen, as it can cause eye strain and interfere with your sleep as well. Studies have shown that high energy blue light from screens can suppress melatonin levels which help you fall asleep during the night. So, if you have a hard time falling asleep then avoid using a screen about an hour before hitting the sack, especially in a dark room. If you have to work in the wee hours of night then wearing blue block lenses can provide you with extra protection from these rays.

9. Use of artificial tears can help temporarily relieve your dry eye symptoms. If artificial tears are not available, then even splashing cold water can help cool and freshen the eyes.

10. Avoid rubbing your eyes.  Chronic rubbing of young eyes is known to cause thinning of   the cornea called Keratoconus. Hard rubbing of eyes can also increase the risk of glaucoma and retinal detachment.  Rinse your eyes with cold water or use artificial tears to get relief from itchy dry eye instead. If you suffer from allergies then use antihistamine oral medications or eye drops for relief.

These 10 rules and tips can help you keep your eyes feeling healthy and free from strain and chronic eye conditions.  It is always wise to get your eyes checked by an optometrist if eye strain and headaches persist.