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Computer vision syndrome - screen monitor

How to avoid digital eye strain

Computer vision syndrome is one of the most common work-related stress injuries. Staring at a computer screen all day can put a serious strain on your eyes - it’s estimated that over half of people who work in front of a computer experiences vision problems.

iMac study deskComputer vision syndrome (CVS) causes a number of vision problems. The eye strain symptoms caused by CVS can include:

  • Tired eyes
  • Eye dryness
  • Watery eyes
  • Headaches
  • Blurry vision
  • Increased sensitivity to light

CVS doesn’t generally lead to serious long-term problems, but it can cause discomfort that may negatively impact daily life. 

For many people, it may not be possible to reduce the time spent in front of a monitor. However, there are a number of steps that can be taken to limit the effects of Computer Vision Syndrome.

The 20-20-20 rule

The 20-20-20 rule is a method that gives your eyes a regular break from looking at the computer screen, helping to reduce the risk or alleviate the symptoms of CVS. 

The graphic below illustrates how the 20-20-20 rule works:

20-20-20 rule

To help you to ‘enforce’ the 20-20-20 rule, there are a number of pieces of software and apps to help you remember. Workrave is a free program that regularly alerts you to take micro-pauses and rest breaks, helping to prevent CVS and Repetitive Strain Injury.

Move your monitor

The position of your computer monitor is important for both your posture and your eyes. Having the monitor too low, high, close or far can give your eyes a lot more work than necessary.

Your monitor should be located around 75cm (about an arm’s length) from your face. It should also be placed directly in front of you, rather than shifted to the side of your sitting position.

In most cases, it’s more comfortable to look slightly down at your computer monitor, rather than up or directly ahead. Position your monitor at around 10-20cm below your eyes to keep your neck at an optimal relaxed state. 

Reduce glare

Having glare on your computer screen can increase the risk of developing vision problems. There are a few precautions that can be taken in order to reduce glare:

  • Screen position – Sometimes removing glare can be as simple as moving or turning your work area away from a light source.
  • Anti-glare screen – Many monitors are designed to be anti-glare, and it’s possible to attach an anti-glare screen to your existing monitor.
  • Anti-reflective glasses – Glasses wearers can use lenses with an anti-reflective coating, which helps to reduce glare.

Man looking at his screen monitor

Adjust your settings

Leaving your computer monitor on its factory settings isn’t always the best idea when it comes to reducing the risk of computer vision syndrome. Additionally, if you’re still using an old cathode ray tube monitor, it’s time to upgrade to a modern LCD screen – LCDs are far easier on the eye.

Your monitor should have adjustable display settings, either using buttons on the screen itself or using your computer settings.

Adjusting the colour temperature to reduce blue colours can be beneficial for reducing vision problems. Short wavelength light (associated with bluish colours) is more closely linked to eye strain than long wavelength light (associated with reddish colours). Too much blue light can also reduce contrast, meaning your eyes have to work harder when looking at the monitor.

You should try to match your screen brightness to your surroundings – too bright or dark can put an unnecessary strain on your eyes. Avoid sitting in front of a window or other bright sources of light, as your eyes may be strained from having to constantly adapt between the two different intensities.