Between reading the tiny text on your smartphone, avoiding flying objects from construction around you, and staring endlessly at a computer screen, your eyes are doing a lot of work throughout the day. Each day, more than 2,000 employees sustain job-related eye injuries, so keeping them healthy should be a top priority. With these seven steps, protecting your eyes is a snap.
Moisturize Your Eyes
Dry eye affects an estimated 21 million people in the United States each year, according to Christopher Starr, MD, FACS, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Weill Cornell Medical Center. One office culprit of dry eyes is low-humidity office air, which can leave your eyes irritated and scratchy, whether or not you wear contacts. Keep moisturizing drops in your desk drawer, and put in a drop or two when your eyes begin to bother you.
Give Your Eyes a Break
Each day, we spend hours staring at computer screens—at home and at the office. We all know the telltale signs of eyestrain: increased tension, a pulling sensation, coupled by difficulty keeping clear focus. Give yourself a break for at least 20 seconds every 20 minutes, Starr says.
“We should think about the eye muscles just like we think about our other muscles, such as biceps and triceps. When you exercise in a gym, you take breaks in between sets to prevent fatigue and strain,” he says. “We should do the same with our eyes. When we look at close objects such as a book or computer screen, our eye muscles are 'flexing' just as a bicep does during a curl exercise.”
Let your eyes wander around the room, focusing on things both near and far, and blink several times to help return the flow of natural tears to your eyes.
Do Push-ups with Your Eyes
It may sound strange, but Michael Pier, OD, director of professional relations at Vision Care North America and Bausch and Lomb suggests doing them several times a day. Look from far to near and back again several times in rapid succession. This exercise will help to strengthen your eye muscles, making them stronger and more resistant to eyestrain.
Set Your Computer up Properly
If you are able to move your computer around, put your monitor about 30 to 40 inches away from your eyes. And set it lower than your eye level, about five to six inches below. The distance will reduce neck and eye strain, and the lower monitor will keep your eyes slightly more covered by the upper eyelid, which can reduce dry eye. “Keep reference material as close to the screen as practical to minimize large head and eye movements and focusing changes,” suggests Christopher Coad, MD, board certified ophthalmologist and medical director of Chelsea Eye Associates in New York City.
Expertly Light Your Desk
“A general rule of thumb, especially in older people, is to use as much light as possible when reading, preferably light directed at the reading material,” Starr says. He also recommends keeping the computer monitor set at its brightest setting so glare and reflections off the screen are reduced.
Wear Glasses if You Need To
People with a vision problem have a tendency to
compensate for this blur by leaning forward or flexing the neck to look at the
screen (or to look through the bottom of bifocal eyeglasses). Not only is the
strain on your eyes bad for your vision, you’re also setting yourself up for
possible neck and back injuries. See your optometrist or ophthalmologist about
a pair of single distance computer eyeglasses, Starr suggests, or multi-focus
contact lenses. They will bring the intermediate distance (where your computer
is) into a clearer focus and help reduce eyestrain and fatigue, as well as
prevent neck and back problems.
Wear Proper Safety Equipment
Not around computers at work? You still have eye health concerns. “Some common causes of eye injury are flying objects, particles, chemicals, exposure to excessive bright light,” says Michael Pier, MD, director of professional relations at Vision Care North America and Bausch and Lomb.
Don’t forget an annual eye exam, especially if you’re over the age of 40, or wear glasses or contacts. The checkups monitor your vision, checking for changes, and evaluates your risks for glaucoma and other eye-health related diseases.