An ophthalmologist offers tips for protecting your eyes.
It looks like working from home—along with its challenges and benefits—isn't going away anytime soon.
Among the challenges, spending more time in front of computer and phone screens looms large.
Meetings have migrated online, adding to the actual work we perform while looking at a screen. Some of us also spend more time streaming movies at home and less time outdoors, especially mid-winter. It all adds up to a surge in eye strain.
"Digital eye strain can cause a variety of symptoms," says John A. Moran Eye Center ophthalmologist Marissa Larochelle, MD. "In addition to visual fatigue, you might experience blurred vision, dry eyes, and headaches. These symptoms arise because we blink far less often than normal when staring at a screen. Blinking is a must, as it keeps the surface of the eye moisturized."
Fortunately, looking at a computer, tablet, or smartphone screen for extended periods won't cause permanent damage. Still, it can result in discomfort and hinder getting through some workdays.
Best practices for managing screen time in your home office
"You can make some simple adjustments to ease the discomfort of eye strain," says Dr. Larochelle:
- Position your computer screen to avoid glare and sit 18 to 25 inches away from the screen, approximately arm's length. Position it so your eyes look slightly downward, rather than straight ahead or far below. This helps prevent your eyes from drying out.
- Practice the 20-20-20 rule, so you remember to blink. Set a timer to remind you to look 20 feet away from your screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. You could also just close your eyes for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. If you have a window in your office, take advantage of the view with every break.
- Use moisturizing eye drops to relieve dry-eye discomfort. Stick with "artificial tears" rather than drops designed to reduce redness, as they tend to exacerbate dry eye.
- Consider using a humidifier in your office, especially if you live in a cold, dry area and your furnace is blasting heat.
- If you wear glasses, ask your eye doctor about computer glasses with progressive lenses designed for focusing on computer screens.
"These simple practices will go a long way in helping at-home workers who sit at computer screens protect their eyesight," says Larochelle. "Although I do get asked about blue-light-blocking glasses, I don't endorse them, nor does the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Some people may find a subjective improvement in eye comfort while wearing them. However, there is no scientific evidence that blue light coming from a computer screen is harmful."