Reducing Eye Strain

by Clare Sobotka, Head Editor, INALJ Idaho

Reducing Eye Strain

Clare SobotkaBeing a librarian comes with certain occupational hazards that can make work and everyday life more unpleasant. Most of those hazards involve computer use. Currently at work I spend most of my time at a reference desk, and while I do use a computer there, the breaks are frequent enough that I haven’t noticed any strain on my wrists or eyes. At home though, it’s a different story. I spend a lot of time in front of the computer sorting e-mails, applying for jobs, reading, writing, and dealing with business matters. In addition, I like to spend some of my free time on the computer as well. Unfortunately this involves a lot of time staring at a screen and after a while I can feel my eyes hurting. Since I’m currently trying to reduce my own eye strain, I thought I would share a few tips:

1. Getting sleep and taking breaks:
I’ve noticed that when I don’t get enough sleep, my eyes strain more when focusing on the screen and I get a headache. For most adults, at least five hours of sleep a night is needed to let your eyes rest and replenish to avoid popped blood vessels in the eye and dry eyes, although you may need more. In addition, taking breaks from the computer or looking away from the screen for 20 seconds can reduce eye strain by allowing your eyes to focus on something else. If you chronically forget to look away from your screen or take breaks, there are freeware applications that will prompt you to do so, such as Workrave.

2. Adjusting your workspace:
Changing the lighting in your work area and placing the monitor in the correct position can reduce eye strain. Monitors should be about an arm’s length away and directly in front of you, while keeping the top of the monitor at or below eye level. Reduce sources of glare by keeping your monitor perpendicular to windows and adjust overhead and task lighting. Adjust the brightness and contrast of your screen so your eyes are more comfortable.

3. Shortcuts:
Sometimes your monitor may be fine and your room is set up well, but you still strain to read the font on your computer. There is a computer shortcut for Windows users that enlarges internet pages and some Microsoft Office products. I wish I had bothered to look them up sooner. If you are using a mouse with a scroll component, holding the CTRL key and scrolling up or down will change the page size, or you can use all key shortcuts. Holding CTRL and the plus or minus signs will adjust the pages, while CTRL+0 will return the page to normal size. I haven’t played with system fonts or with Mac OS shortcuts, but for OS systems some good tips appear here.

4. Update video cards, check cables, and check resolution
If the above tactics don’t work, and your computer monitor doesn’t seem quite right, try troubleshooting your LCD screen. Update your video cards, choose the correct resolution for your computer, and try configuring your color settings. Also check the cable that connects the monitor to the computer by unplugging it and plugging it back in again, making sure that the post connections are secure. To see if there is a problem with the monitor, try using a different cable or connect your monitor to a different computer.

I’m also experimenting with f.lux to see if I like it. f.lux changes the color of your computer display to match the time of day; during the day it emits a cool blue light and once the sun sets, a warmer reddish light. Some studies suggest that the intense blue light our devices emit strain our eyes and inhibit melatonin production. Melatonin makes us sleepy, so disrupting its production can throw off our circadian rhythms, and we get less sleep. Using a warmer light for the screen display is supposed to reduce these problems. It is possible to use your computer settings to reduce the color temperature of your computer display, but I like the blue light in the daytime, so I use f.lux. So far, I think that it has reduced some of my eye strain late at night; I’m not sure it’s helped my sleep cycle. How-To Geek has a good article on f.lux.

Have you experienced eye strain from the computer? What has helped or made it worse? Please share with us!

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