Overview

The amount of time you spend staring at a computer screen can affect your eyes and worsen dry eye symptoms. But work obligations may often prohibit you from limiting the time you need to spend in front of a computer.

Activities that demand intense concentration can result in eyestrain and dryness. According to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, a person blinks up to 66 percent less frequently while using a computer.

Blinking is important because it helps spread hydrating substances like tears and mucus across your eyes. If you’re blinking less, the tears on your eyes have more time to evaporate, resulting in red and dry eyes.

The brightness of the monitor reflecting onto your eyes can also contribute to dry and tired eyes. By the end of your workday, you may find you’re squinting to see what you could previously see more easily.

Signs that you may have computer vision syndrome, which is also known as digital eyestrain, include:

  • blurry vision
  • dry eyes
  • eyestrain
  • headaches
  • neck and shoulder pain

Here are 12 steps you can take to reduce eye dryness and strain.

If you wear glasses, talk to your eye doctor about antireflective coatings or special lenses. These can help to minimize glare on your computer screen and keep your eyes feeling comfortable. Also, make sure you have the correct prescription glasses. Otherwise, your eyes will strain to see the screen.

Eye drops can ensure your eyes stay lubricated while using a computer. You can purchase over-the-counter (OTC) artificial tears that you can use when your eyes feel dry.

If OTC eye drops and adjustments to your environment don’t seem to help, talk to your eye doctor. They may recommend prescription eye drops for chronic dry eye.

Proper placement of the monitor on your desk can help reduce glare and promote a more ergonomic and comfortable experience.

If possible, switch to a larger monitor. This will usually make words and images easier to see. Also, enlarge the font whenever possible to make reading easier.

Position your computer monitor about 20 to 26 inches away from your head. The monitor should be placed at such a height that you’re looking at the middle of the screen. You shouldn’t have to hunch over or sit up excessively straight to see the computer screen well.

It can also be helpful to set your monitor just below eye level to reduce the surface area of your eyes that are exposed to air. This can help reduce tear evaporation that can lead to dry eyes.

Use a glare filter over your computer to reduce any unwanted light that can make it difficult to see. Also note that flatter screens tend to have less glare.

Adjust your computer’s refresh rate to between 70 and 85 Hz. Most computer screens will refresh at a rate of 60 Hz. However, this speed can cause a flickering or rolling of the screen.

Adjust the brightness of your computer monitor as well. If a website with a white background is so bright that it looks like a light source, it’s too bright. But if the monitor appears gray or dull, this is a sign that your monitor should be brighter.

The layout of the location where you use a computer can contribute to eyestrain. It’s best if your computer monitor is away from the window (meaning, not in front of a window or behind one).

This reduces the glare from outside light sources that can further irritate and dry your eyes. If your desk must be up against a window, get blinds or curtains to help reduce glare.

Switching out overhead fluorescent lights in favor of lamps can help to reduce overhead glare that can make it difficult for your eyes to focus. Adjusting light to a lower wattage or even a softer filter can help to relax the eyes.

If you do use a lamp on your desk, ensure it isn’t pointed directly at your face. Instead, the light should be pointed downward, toward papers on your desk.

While you can make some changes to your computer workstation and monitor, there are other things you can do to ensure you’re protecting your eyes as best you can while working.

Look away from your computer screen at least every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. Focusing on an item that is about 20 feet away from you can help to reduce strain and fatigue on the eye muscles. This practice is known as the 20-20-20 rule.

You can also adjust your eyes’ focusing ability and “relax” your eyes by looking at a faraway object for 10 to 15 seconds. Then, look at an object that is closer to you.

The air quality in the environment that you use a computer in can play a role in eyestrain and dryness. Use a humidifier to increase the amount of moisture in the air. If necessary, move away from fans and vents that blow air toward your eyes and face.

Also, avoid smoking or being exposed to secondhand smoke that can irritate your eyes.

Some supplements may help improve your dry eye and eyestrain symptoms. For example, omega-3 fatty acids and bilberry extract may help with dry eye, but research is limited.

Always talk to your optometrist or ophthalmologist before taking any supplements.

If you work at a computer all day, it’s important to take frequent breaks.

These breaks don’t have to be for long periods of time. Every hour or two, take a few minutes to get up, go for a short walk, and stretch your arms and legs. Not only can getting away from your computer reduce eyestrain and dryness, but it can also help reduce any neck or back pain you may experience from sitting at a computer.

There are several apps you can download on your computer that remind you to take breaks or automatically adjust your screen settings to protect your eyes.

One example is f.lux, which changes the color and brightness of your computer screen based on the time of the day so you aren’t straining your eyes. Another example is Time Out, where you can set up alerts that remind you to take short breaks.

Dehydration can make chronic dry eye symptoms worse. And if you’re staring at a computer screen for an extended period of time on top of that, not drinking enough water can make your eyes feel even worse.

Stay hydrated by drinking at least eight glasses of water throughout each day.

If you’ve tried all of the above and still can’t seem to get relief, it might be time to get your eyes evaluated. Make an appointment with an ophthalmologist or optometrist to see if you need a new prescription for glasses or contacts. Your doctor may also recommend an OTC or prescription treatment, such as eye drops or ointments, to help relieve your symptoms.

Many of the steps described above don’t take a tremendous amount of time or money to be effective. By increasing your efforts to protect your eyes, you’ll likely experience less dry eye discomfort.