Staring at screens for hours each day can irritate and strain our eyes, but there are some things we can do each day to look after our vision.
Australians spend an average of 9.4 hours daily in front a screen1.
Office workers are glued to the screen even more at 11.4 hours a day. Add to this the hours spent on devices outside of work, and you have a recipe for significant eye strain.
It’s something that concerns 71 per cent of office workers who cite tired and sore eyes as a primary worry caused by screen time use.
“Most people in office environments will suffer some form of digital eye strain,” says Peter Gardner, an experienced optometrist based in WA .
Most people in office environments will suffer some form of digital eye strain
“This increases with age, because our eye’s focusing system loses its flexibility and ability to focus up close.”
Use of devices outside of work exacerbates this problem resulting in headaches, blurred vision for near work, difficulty holding writing in focus and blurred distance vision at the end of the day.
So what’s causing the most tension to our eyes in the office, and what can we do about it?
Common causes of eye strain in the office
“Staring at screens all day means we’re holding the eye’s focusing muscle in one position,” explains Gardner. “This tires the muscle quickly and causes discomfort, headaches and blurred vision.”
Artificial lighting and screens combined means our eyes are constantly exposed to blue light, which also contributes to digital eyestrain.
To reduce the impacts of these things, Gardner suggests regularly walking away from the screen, changing tasks and looking out the window.
To reduce the impacts, regularly walk away from the screen, change tasks and look out the window.
Blue light is part of the visible light spectrum and exposure commonly comes from mobile device screens.
Blue filtering lenses may help by reducing the amount of blue light reaching the eye, as can switching other devices to night mode where possible.
Poor lighting and contrast causes eyestrain. Poor light also makes detailed tasks much harder, which can lead to errors and mistakes.
Turn the brightness down on your screen so it’s comfortable and make sure the ambient office lighting is a similar level.
“Avoid glare sources reflecting off the screen, such as a large window or bright light directly behind you,” advises Gardner. “This creates what’s known as veiling glare and makes it much harder to see the detail on the screen.
Turn the brightness down on your screen so it’s comfortable and make sure the ambient office lighting is a similar level.”
How we can look after our sight
Getting regular eye tests
If you’re over 40, already wear glasses or contact lenses, are diabetic or have a family history of eye disease, Gardner recommends an annual eye check. If you’re under 40 with no discomfort or digital eye strain, every two years is adequate.
“Regular eye checks and keeping your script up to date will make your visual environment a lot more comfortable and reduce eye strain,” says Gardner.
“More importantly, your optometrist can look for early signs of eye disease such as glaucoma, cataract and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), as well as any other more serious health conditions.”
“Blue filtering coatings and lenses can reduce screen glare and digital eye strain,” says Gardner. “They’re a particularly good idea for older people and those with a family history of AMD.”
Low level magnification lenses reduce stress on the focusing muscle and can be beneficial to people who don’t normally need reading glasses. For people using reading glasses, there are lenses available specifically tailored for office work.
“The office all-rounder lens has a reduced distance area but greatly enhanced reading and intermediate zones allowing you to comfortably switch from near to computer tasks,” advises Gardner.
Taking breaks to help reset the eye’s focusing system is effective in reducing eye strain.
Ergonomics also plays a part, so you should take care when setting up your work station.
“Posture is very important,” says Gardner. “Keeping a comfortable upright posture takes an enormous amount of strain off the neck.”
“As well as giving you a sore neck, [poor posture] will also make all the symptoms of strain and headache much worse.”
Your distance from your screen and its height are also key for keeping your eyes comfortable.
Myths about eye care
“People often ask me if exercises will help them avoid needing glasses, but sadly this isn’t the case,” says Gardner.
“The need for reading glasses is due to flexibility reduction in the eye lens, not the muscle that controls it, and distance glasses are required because of eye size and the focal point not falling on the retina. Exercises can’t change the shape or structure of the eye.”
Gardner adds that laser surgery may not cure the need for reading glasses either, as the surgery performed on the cornea doesn’t affect the focusing lens within.
“There are some treatments available which can help with near vision, but these are often far more invasive and limited in their outcome,” he says.
As a final myth buster, Gardner confirms that carrots do not help you see in the dark!
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1 Lonergan Research - Screen Time (2017)