The amount of time you spend staring at a computer screen does affect your eyes and can worsen dry eye symptoms. Since work obligations may prohibit you from limiting the time you need to spend in front of a computer, here are some tips to help reduce the incidence of dry eyes caused by computer use.

How computers contribute to eye strain

Activities that demand intense concentration can result in higher incidences of eye strain 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 can spread eye-hydrating substances, such as tears and mucus, across the eye to nourish it. If you’re blinking less, it also means the tears that are on the eye have more time to evaporate, resulting in eye redness and dryness.

The brightness of the monitor reflecting onto your eyes can also contribute to eye tiredness and dryness. By the end of the 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 eye strain, include:

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

Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to reduce eye dryness and strain.

Change up your environment

The layout of the location where you use a computer can contribute to eye strain. 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 the eyes. If your desk must be up against a window, get blinds or curtains to help to reduce the incidence of glare.

Switching out overhead fluorescent lights in favor of lamps can help to reduce the overhead glare that can make it difficult for the 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.

Adjust your monitor

Proper placement of the monitor on your desk can help reduce glare and promote a more ergonomic and comfortable experience. Here are some adjustments you can make to promote reduced eye strain and dryness:

  • Use a glare filter over the computer to reduce any unwanted light that can make it difficult to see. Also note that flatter screens tend to have less of a 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. If a website with a white background is so bright that it looks like a light source, it’s too bright. However, if the monitor appears gray or dull, this is a sign that your monitor should be brighter.
  • Switch to a larger monitor. This will usually make words and other images easier to see. As well, 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 are 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 the tear evaporation that can lead to dry eyes.

Adjust your glasses

If you wear glasses, talk to your eye doctor about applying an antireflective coating. This can help to minimize glare on the screen. Also make sure you have the correct prescription glasses. Otherwise, your eyes will strain to see the screen.

Healthy habits to practice

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 eye’s focusing ability and “relax” the eyes by looking at a faraway object for 10 to 15 seconds. Then look at an object that is closer to you.

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.