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Eye health tips for computer jockeys

digital eye strain with computer use

Digital devices have changed our world for the better, but our eyes just aren’t handling the change very well.

Our team at 9 Clouds spends an unusually high amount of time staring at screens, and so do many of our clients in the digital realm. For that reason, we thought it would be helpful to make a quick blog post about eye strain.

As many as 75% of computer-working adults have experienced or seen the hallmark symptoms of digital eye strain: itchy red eyes, blurred vision, neck pain and headaches. According to a recent study, adults with computer-oriented jobs who have eye strain undergo changes in tear fluid similar to people with dry eye disease.

The blue light blues

LCD screens on computers, phones and TVs emit what is called high-energy visible (HEV) light, which has an unnaturally blue color tone. Over time, this “colder” light from digital devices can slowly damage our retinas, which could lead to long-term vision problems like age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.

blue light chart

The bluish light emitted by our digital devices can cause permanent retinal problems (AMD) and also disrupt your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. (Image from The Vision Council)

But the fun doesn’t stop there. Blue light also messes with our brains. Our circadian rhythms (which is a fancy term for “biological clocks”) work off of light temperatures. Cool blue mornings and deep red sunsets naturally set our internal alarm clocks and keep us alert at the right time of day. Throw in 10 hours of bright blue screen time, and that rhythm gets a little out of whack.

Protect your eyes from the blue light of death

Okay. Maybe that’s a little dramatic, but there are some simple things you can do to prevent the short- and long-term effects of excessive digital screen time.

1. Look up once in a while

This is the simple one. Think of the things that you do to “get in the zone” at work: You grab a cup of coffee, close your door, crank up the T-Swift, sit back in a comfortable chair, and maybe even log out of Facebook (with some will power, it is possible). My point is this: The methods you use to focus are probably also causing you to stare at your computer screen too long.

The Vision Council recommends the “20-20-20 rule.” Every 20 minutes, look away from your computer screen for at least 20 seconds at something 20 feet away. By design, this technique refocuses and recharges your eyes during long periods of computer use.

In my experience, the best way to remind yourself to actually look away every 20 minutes is to set a timer. I either use my iPhone’s stopwatch or the “Strict Workflow” extension on Chrome to keep me in a 20-20-20 rhythm. (Looking for more workplace efficiency tips? Subscribe to the 9 Clouds Blog). 

2. Get yellow

There are a couple of proven methods to block out harmful bluish HEV light, and they’re both yellow-ish.

The first is an app called F.lux, which gently adapts the color tint of your computer’s display to the time of day: warmer at night and cooler during the day. I’ve been using F.lux for about a month now, and I’ve had noticeably fewer instances of itchy eyes and headaches.

The second method is to wear glasses that are specially designed for computer use. The most popular computer glasses are made by Gamma Ray, and they come in a wide variety of styles. These glasses block out blue HEV light rays with lightly-tinted yellowish lenses. While I haven’t mustered the courage to wear them myself, they receive generally very positive reviews on Amazon.

3. Rearrange your battle station

First, scoot up a little. When you’re at your battle station, sit in your chair (or stand, like we do) and hold out your arm like you’re telling someone to stop. Your palm should rest comfortably on your computer screen. Additionally, your screen should be up in front of your face, just below eye level. Slumping over your laptop often leads to neck pain or other orthopedic problems.

Many modern laptops and desktops automatically detect the amount of ambient light in your workspace and adjust their own brightness accordingly. The brighter your office is, the brighter your computer’s screen will be. To do your eyes a favor, lessen the amount of ambient light that is competing with your computer’s screen, or simply turn down the brightness of your screen.

4. Take advantage of non-screen time

It’s hard not to write something snarky here, because we’re all guilty of indulging in copious amounts of screen time. In a nutshell, it’s a good idea to log out once in a while and be a human. If you’re in an in-person meeting of any kind, use the time to actually be in-person and give your eyes a break.

That applies at home, too. As a rule, my family doesn’t use any screens after 8 p.m. Instead of spending my late evenings binge-watching Lost for the fourth time, I’m rough housing with my 2-and-a-half year old daughter and reading more books (yes, the paper kind). For many, the benefits of reducing screen time in the evening are similar to the benefits of exercise, including better quality sleep and more energy. Personally, I feel much better after reading a paper book in a warm bed-side light instead of gazing at an iPad that radiates blue light.

5. Eat nutritiously, starting with vitamin A and taurine

Especially for computer jockeys like us, healthy eyes start with healthy stomachs. Vitamin A is essential for healthy eyes. Your retinas use vitamin A to change light into chemical reactions that bring visuals into your brain. Get more vitamin A in your diet with egg yolk, cheese, milk, butter and margarine. Thats right: an amazing hearty breakfast is good for your eyes. Eat up, Ron Swanson.

In addition to vitamin A, taurine is also great for your gazers. This amino acid controls the electric charge across cell membranes, and it is essential for nerve impulses, which is critically important for your eyes to function properly. To get more taurine into your retinas, eat some fish and meat. If meat isn’t your forte, you can find taurine most over-the-counter vitamin supplements (along with vitamin A).

While vitamin A and taurine will always be great for any person’s eyes, all-day computer users might benefit the most from a few more nutrients that all help fight against advanced macular degeneration, including:

  • Zinc, which guides vitamin A into your system
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, which also also help with dry eyes
  • Vitamin C, which also reduces the risk of cataracts and keeps your immune system ticking
  • Selenium, which also plays well with vitamins C

What about you and your eyes?

Have you suffered from digital eye strain before? How do you remedy it? We want to hear from you in the comments below!

For more tips on workplace health and happiness, subscribe to the 9 Clouds blog.

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Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. 

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