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  Computer Eye Strain
(and how to reduce it)

by Tina Morgan

 

Despite the modern conveniences of computers and word processors, the modern writer faces more risks and potential discomfort from their writing than their predecessors did. While keyboards make it easier for our fingers to keep up with our thought processes, they can cause strain to our bodies that accumulates with time and leaves us with pain anywhere from our neck and shoulders down through our hands and fingers. Monitors that display our creative endeavors in such easy to read fonts are actually harder on our eyes than trying to read our own sometimes sloppy script.

A quick trip around the Internet revealed many sources of information about RSI (repetitive strain injury) and computer eye strain. Many of the recommendations for relieving eyestrain can also benefit RSI symptoms but for this article, I will be concentrating on how to relieve our tired and aching eyes.

How do you know if you're suffering from computer-induced eyestrain?

One of the first signs most people notice is dry and irritated eyes but eyestrain can also make it difficult to focus when you look away from the computer. It can blur your vision and make colors appear muddy. It may be accompanied by neck and should pain as well as headaches.

There are several factors that contribute computer-induced eyestrain. One that may seem unlikely is the difficulty the human eye has in focusing on print on a computer screen. It would seem that with the clear fonts available to work with that reading from a screen would be easier on our eyes than trying to read someone's cramped or scribbled writing. But words on paper have clearly defined edges while computer generated images are made up of pixels. These pixels are brighter in the center and fade toward the edges, making it harder for our eyes to focus on the font.

One suggestion for dealing with this issue is to visit an eye doctor who specializes in computer vision problems to see if a pair of computer glasses would be beneficial. However, finding a doctor who can prescribe these specialized glasses can be difficult and the glasses themselves are not cheap. Fortunately there are other ways to help reduce eyestrain that may save your wallet.

Reduce Glare
Your computer monitor is a source of light and does not require direct lighting to make it easier to see. In fact, light on the screen can produce more glare and contribute to eyestrain. If you are typing from a hard copy keep the light aimed at the paper and away from the monitor.  If possible, do not position your computer directly behind or in front of a window. If that's not possible then shade the window adequately to reduce glare.

Bright white walls behind your computer can contribute to glare due to the amount of light hitting these reflective surfaces. Walls are best painted darker matte colors and ambient lighting should be kept darker than average when you're spending a lot of time at your computer.

Proper Posture and Distance
Our eyes developed over the centuries to help us hunt for food. This required long distance vision and working at a computer all day is in opposition of this development. Sitting up straight with our arms and thighs parallel to the floor can help reduce arm and shoulder strain that can contribute to headaches. Most writers have a tendency to sit too close to their monitors. Keeping our computer twenty to twenty-six inches (60cm) gives our eyes the room they need to focus clearly.

Every twenty minutes, look past your computer and focus on something that is at least 20 feet away (7 meters). The reason for this is your eyes need to focus on different distances periodically in order to maintain top effectiveness. However, keep the distance between your monitor and the copy you're working from as close as possible. You do not want to have to refocus every time you glance from screen to paper.

Dry Eyes
Another reason for eyestrain can be as simple as dry eyes. We don't blink as often when we're working on a computer as when we're doing other activities. Keep your monitor below eye level so that you're looking at it with more of the eye surface covered by the lid. This will help maintain moisture in your eyes. Over the counter eye drops that reduce the redness of the eye are not recommended. Speak to a qualified eye doctor about moisturizing drops or replacement tears.  Every thirty minutes try blinking slowly ten times as if you're falling asleep. This will help produce moisture. If you wear contacts, consider removing them while working on the computer, as they will exacerbate the problem of dry eyes.

Monitor Resolution and Clarity
Keep your monitor clean of dust and fingerprints to help improve clarity. Factory defaults typically set your monitor to refresh at 60hz but using a higher refresh rate is recommended. If possible, using a monochrome monitor is suggested over a color monitor. Not always a possibility with today's complex video games, nor desirable for web browsing but for data entry, using a monochrome monitor can greatly reduce eyestrain.

To protect your eyes and discuss your own eyestrain issues, have your eyes examined by a qualified eye doctor once a year. Visit the following sites for more information:

http://www.visionworksusa.com/computereyestrain.htm

http://www.eye2eye.com/
(software to remind users to take breaks)

http://www.vh.org/adult/patient/familymedicine/studenthealth/dilbert.html

http://www.tifaq.com/articles/visual_comfort-jan99-jeffrey_anshel.html

http://www.allaboutvision.com/cvs/irritated.htm

http://www.tifaq.com/articles/visual_comfort-jan99-jeffrey_anshel.html

http://www.office-ergo.com/12things1.htm

 

  Copyright 2004 Tina Morgan
 

 



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