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14 Tips for Keeping Your Eyes Healthy in our Screen-Filled World

May 22, 2016

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Article courtesy of Dallas News.

For most of human history, workers relied on strong backs to make a living.

Today, you need healthy eyes.

The digital age has radically altered the way we use our eyes. The average U.S. worker spends seven hours a day on a computer; most add in more screen time after work on tablets, e-readers or cellphones.

As a result, nearly 60 percent of adults have experienced vision problems, according to the American Optometric Association’s 2015 American Eye-Q survey. The most common problem: computer vision syndrome, with symptoms like eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes and neck and shoulder pain.

We interviewed three professionals who see patients with these complaints every day for tips for keeping your eyes healthy.

Take 20

Take 20/20/20 eye breaks: Turn your weary eyes away from the computer at regular intervals to give them a break.

“When you’re working at the computer, take a break every 20 minutes to look about 20 feet away from the screen for about 20 seconds,” says Dr. Sylvia Hargrave, chief of ophthalmology at Methodist Dallas Medical Center.

Get 20 blinks: While you’re at it, blink 20 times during that break, advises Dr. Edward Mendelson, an optometrist and faculty associate in the department of ophthalmology at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

“People tend to blink 18 to 20 times a minute normally, and every time you blink, you get a new layer of tears,” he says. “But when focused on a task, you tend to blink less often, and your eyes get dry.”

Dryness is the main source of discomfort caused by computer vision syndrome.

Fight tech with tech: Upload an app on your computer to ping yourself with a reminder to look up and away regularly. For example, FadeTop (fadetop.com) pops a translucent reminder on your screen at customizable intervals. You choose the duration of the reminder, or ignore it if you need an extra minute to finish a task.

Arm your eyes

Eye drops: Choose artificial tears or lubricant eyedrops, and avoid vasoconstrictors (drops that claim to “get the red out”). You may need to try a few different formulations to figure out which work best for you. Be sure to follow package directions, and choose preservative-free drops, especially if you use them often.

“I have patients who have made their problems worse by overusing eyedrops with preservatives,” said Dr. Karen Saland, an ophthalmologist on the Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas medical staff.

Computer glasses: Single-vision glasses corrected for the intermediate distance between the eyes and the computer screen can make an enormous difference for heavy computer users. Over-the-counter reading glasses will work if you have the same prescription in both eyes; however, most people don’t.

Visual ergonomics

Look down: Position your chair and your workspace so that you’re looking down at the screen, rather than up. A downward gaze means more lid over your eye’s surface, and thus less dryness, and also may help reduce strain on the neck.

The American Optometric Association recommends a distance of 20 to 28 inches from the eye to the front of the screen, with the center of the screen at about 4 to 5 inches below eye level.

Adjust your settings: Choose a larger font. For e-readers, opt for dark letters on a light background, rather than white on black. Try matching the brightness of the monitor to the surrounding workspace; too much contrast is hard on the eyes.

Check room lighting: You might need to close window shades or turn off overhead lights if they cause glare.

“A lot of people have good results with anti-glare filters that clip onto the monitor,” Hargrave says.

Enlist a professional

Annual eye exam: Heavy computer use may irritate your eyes, but won’t cause permanent damage. However, your symptoms could point to an underlying problem, which could be treated if caught early with an eye exam. Be sure to alert your doctor if you experience eyestrain.

Prescription lenses: If you’re purchasing prescription glasses, tell your practitioner if you work at a computer regularly. Ask about lens coatings that can reduce glare or filter out blue light.

If you wear progressive lenses, find out how to best position your computer accordingly. Typically, progressive lenses have a very narrow area of intermediate-range correction, but Mendelson says he can tweak the prescription of progressive lenses for those patients who log lots of screen time.

Stay healthy

Check the pollen count: Seasonal allergies can make eye fatigue worse, and oral antihistamines can make your eyes drier than normal. Saland says that prescription antihistamine eyedrops can help.

Nix the fan: If you’ve got a ceiling fan in your bedroom, turn it off at night. A fan can dry your eyes out even more.

Pack a colorful lunch: Fruits and vegetables in a variety of deep colors may boost eye health and fend off macular degeneration. But don’t eat at your desk; give your eyes a break and look away from the screen while you eat.

Manage overall health: You know the drill, but it bears repeating. Exercise, get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods and don’t smoke.

Be sure to take protective measures for your eyes where warranted, such as wearing UV-rated sunglasses outdoors and safety glasses in hazardous situations.

Photo courtesy of: Ponsulak.