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8 Ways to Reduce Eye Strain While Working From Home

Woman pinching bridge of nose while working.

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Key Takeaways

  • Spending too much time in front of screens can lead to eye strain called computer vision syndrome.
  • Computer vision syndrome leads to temporary but uncomfortable symptoms like blurred vision, dry eyes, and headaches.
  • Making sure you properly set up your computer station, take frequent breaks, and block blue light can help reduce eye strain and keep you feeling good while working from home.

As continued shutdowns have people spending more time at home and increasing their screen time, eye health experts are becoming increasingly concerned about an indirect consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic: computer vision syndrome.

The American Optometric Association defines computer vision syndrome as a collection of eye- and vision-related symptoms, like headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain, that develop as a result of spending too much time looking at your computer, tablet, or cell phone.

Due to COVID-19, about 42% of Americans are now working from home, according to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. A new Alcon/Ipsos poll found that many Americans reported increased screen time during the pandemic. Among those who report spending more time in front of a screen, 45% say that they have experienced their eyes feeling dry as a result and 60% are concerned about the impact that increased screen time will have on their eyes.

"With more people working from home during the pandemic, they’re spending more time in front of their screens with fewer and shorter breaks between uses," Ashley Katsikos, OD, FAAO, a dry eye specialist with Golden Gate Eye Associates in California, tells Verywell. "As a result, many more patients are experiencing digital eye strain."

While eye strain itself doesn't appear to have any long-term consequences, Katsikos explains that continued exposure to blue light—a short wavelength, high energy light that comes from screens—could lead to damaged retinal cells and age-related macular degeneration.

What Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs when a part of the retina called the macula is damaged. AMD causes loss of central vision up-close and at a distance.

But experts stress there are ways to reduce the screen's strain on your vision and give your eyes a break while working from home.

Why Computer Vision Syndrome Happens

According to Leigh Plowman, OD, an optometrist in Australia who specializes in dry eyes, there are two main eye systems affected by increased screen time: your binocular vision and your tear film.

Your binocular vision helps your eyes converge, or move inward toward each other, so you can see images or words on a screen. The tear film is a thin layer of fluid that covers the outer surfaces of the eye. It protects the eye from potentially-harmful bacteria and viruses and helps maintain normal eye function. Every time you blink, you restore and smooth out the tear film.

"When we use a device, we see reductions in how efficiently our eye muscles
work," Plowman tells Verywell. "With increasing screen use, we see a reduced ability to converge up close and bring things together. Computers [also] tend to decrease how often and how fully we blink. They reduce our tear volume, stability (or ability of our tears to form a smooth, even surface), and we see increased signs of stress."

All of this can overwhelm your vision and lead to reductions in focusing strength, a combination that eventually results in eye strain. Fortunately, there are some simple lifestyle changes you can make to help protect your eyes from the negative effects of screen time.

What This Means For You

Working from home may be exacerbating your digital eye strain. There are steps you can take to reduce the screen's negative effects like taking frequent breaks, having a proper work station, and wearing blue light lenses. For any persistent issues, you should schedule a vision exam with your doctor.

How to Reduce Eye Strain

Spending less time in front of your computer seems like the simplest solution for digital eye strain, but if you're working from home, that might not be a viable option for you. If you have no choice but to spend eight hours in front of the computer every day, there are some actions you can take to give your eyes a break and reduce the screen's negative impact.

Maintain Good Posture

You may not realize your posture and eyes are connected, but maintaining the proper sitting position while you work is actually the first line of defense against eye strain.

When you sit down at your computer, make sure your feet are flat on the floor and your wrists are slightly elevated, rather than resting on your keyboard. Your screen should be positioned just below your natural line of sight.

"The computer should be positioned for a slightly downward gaze," Mark Kahrhoff, OD, an optometrist who owns and operates Complete Vision Care in Missouri, tells Verywell. "It is easier on the eye than looking straight across or viewing upwards. A downward gaze helps bring the eyelid down and helps eliminate the chances of being affected by drafts, especially when an HVAC unit is in the room, and helps protect against dryness."

Make sure you're sitting up straight, though. Slouching over your keyboard can create muscle tension in your back and shoulders that restricts blood flow to your eyes, causing vision problems.

home office setup dimensions
Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Change Your Lighting

Even if your screen is backlit, the proper room lighting matters. If it's too bright or too dim, it can lead to increased eye strain and headaches. Your screen should be bright enough so you don't have to squint, but not too bright that it looks like the screen is illuminated. It's also important to reduce glare.

"[Glare] can impact one's ability to perform their normal job function," Kahrhoff says. "A good test is to place a folder over your head as you look at your work terminal. If it becomes easier to read with the folder, than [you] may have problems with discomfort and disability glare."

You can reduce glare by using an antiglare coating, placing a screen around your computer, and making sure there are no other light sources hitting your computer screen.

Increase Your Font Size

If you notice yourself squinting to try to read the text on your computer screen, increase your font size. This can reduce some of the stress on your eyes and prevent unnecessary strain.

If it's within your budget, you can also opt for a bigger monitor, which naturally increases the size of whatever you're working on.

Blink More

Blinking is typically considered an involuntary action. But when you're in front of the computer screen all day, you should make a conscious effort to blink more.

"The blink produces moisture and is an essential component of how the eye takes care of itself," says Kahrhoff. "Regular blinking occurs about 15 times per minute. However, studies indicate blinking only occurs about five to seven times in a minute while using computers and other digital screen devices."

A lapse in blinking can lead to dryness, irritation, reduced vision, discomfort, and a loss of concentration, which can ultimately result in reduced efficiency, according to Kahrhoff.

Take Frequent Breaks

You also need to give yourself frequent breaks. Most experts recommend going by what's called the 20-20-20 rule—every 20 minutes, divert your focus to something that's 20 feet away for 20 seconds. If you can, step away from the computer and get a glass of water or go outside for a few minutes.

Katsikos explains that when you do this, you naturally blink more than you do when staring at the computer screen. This gives your eyes a chance to relax and rehydrate.

Hugo Higa, MD, an ophthalmologist and oculoplastic surgeon in Hawaii, also recommends setting your desk up so that you're looking out a window or facing out into a room, rather than putting it against a blank wall. "The distant objects keep you from only focusing at the near image of your computer screen," he tells Verywell. "In effect, you stretch your eyes by looking at something in the distance."

Block Blue Light

Blue light is everywhere, even in sunlight, but computer and phone screens contain significant concentrated amounts that are difficult for your eyes to filter out. Higa says prolonged exposure to blue light can lead to eyestrain, headaches, and can negatively affect your sleep.

He recommends wearing blue light glasses when looking at screens or utilizing built-in blue light filters, which are now standard on most computers and smartphones.

If you wear prescription glasses, you can also opt to include blue light blocking technology right into your lenses.

Make Sure Your Prescription Is Correct

If you wear glasses, make sure your prescription is up to date. Wearing the incorrect prescription can cause eye strain on its own. When combined with excessive computer use, it can exacerbate the issue.

You also need to make sure the glasses you're wearing are right for the job. For example, if your glasses are meant for distance vision, they might not provide the clarity you need to view your computer screen.

You might need more than one pair of glasses for different tasks, or you may benefit from upgrading your current lenses to ones that are specifically designed for working on the computer.

Create Technology-Free Zones

These tips can help reduce eye strain when you're forced to look at screens all day, but Plowman also recommends creating technology-free zones in certain areas of your home, like the bedroom or bathroom. If you spend the entire day working on the computer, getting in bed and scrolling through social media until you fall asleep won't do your eyes any favors.

Once you're done for the day, truly unplug. Read a book or spend some quality time with family members without your phone.

It's important to make sure you're visiting your eye doctor regularly. While computer vision syndrome is something that can be fixed, your doctor will be able to pinpoint any more serious issues with a thorough eye exam.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Optometric Association. Computer Vision Syndrome.

  2. Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. How Working From Home Works Out. June 2020.

  3. Ipsos. Screen time across several devices has increased for many Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. July 21, 2020.

  4. American Academy of Opthalmology. What is Macular Degeneration?

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  6. Braun RJ, King-Smith PE, Begley CG, Li L, Gewecke NR. Dynamics and function of the tear film in relation to the blink cycleProg Retin Eye Res. 2015;45:132-164. doi:10.1016/j.preteyeres.2014.11.001