There are very few jobs these days that don’t involve the use of a computer to some degree and many require you to spend long hours in front of the screen. Even outdoor jobs often require some updating of computer records, so working comfortably in front of the screen is something that is really important. Like with many things in life it is easy to slip into bad habits and the same is true of computer use. Bad habits can make your working day uncomfortable and more tiring, which can ultimately lead to a reduction in productivity. A comfortable worker is generally a good worker and for this reason employers are putting more and more effort into ensuring that the work station is set up correctly. Bad computer habits can lead to many symptoms of the eyes and the most common ones are as follows:
Headaches: Headaches are a common problem associated with computer use and they typically affect the front (frontal) and side (temporal) of the head. They are likely to be characterised by a dull, constant ache which can be difficult to shift with pain killers. Headaches account for a large number of days off work and can significantly reduce a person’s productivity.
Eye strain: This is characterised by a dull ache around or behind the eyes and is caused by over action of certain muscles within the eyes.
Red stinging eyes: The main cause of this is reduced blinking whilst using the computer for long periods. When we concentrate on tasks such as the computer, our blink rate reduces by as much as 75% and consequently our eyes do not get the fresh oxygenated tears they require.
Blurred vision: Excessive computer use can lead to intermittent blurring of your close vision as the focusing muscles within the eyes tire and momentarily ‘give up’. You may also find that after an intense day staring the computer screen your distance vision may also be slightly blurred on your way home from work. This is due to the fact that the eyes get so used to looking at close tasks that they become temporarily near sighted.
If you recognise any of the above symptoms in yourself, then there is a good chance that you have picked up a number of bad computer habits. Although not an exhaustive list, below is my top 5 bad habits people need to avoid to make computer work more comfortable.
1. Working without breaks: One of the main problems with computer use is that you can get so immersed in the task that you spend hours and hours without so much as looking up from screen, never mind taking a break! It is recommended to have at least a 5 minute break every hour to ensure your eyes are not over worked. You may be reading this thinking ‘ there is no way my boss is going to agree to this’ and if this is the case then alternatively you could give yourself five one minute breaks every 10 minutes or so. The critical thing to remember is that during this one minute break you need to make sure you are focusing on things in the distance. If you are lucky enough to have a window in your office then look out of it. If not, then just look to the other end of the office. The worst thing you can do during a break is read a book or check something on the internet as this is not giving your eyes a break! By looking into the distances our eye’s focusing muscles are fully relaxed.
2. Sitting too close to the screen: This is particularly a problem with lap tops as owing to their smaller size they are normally closer to you. The closer your computer is to you, the more the focusing muscles have to work. You should aim to sit at least 70 cms from your screen.
3. Poor light: This is more likely to affect people working at home but poor lighting is one of the biggest causes of eye strain and headaches. Having a bright screen is not enough; you also need to ensure the ambient light levels in the room are sufficient.
4. Failure to wear eye glasses: If your Optometrist has advised that you wear glasses or contact lenses for computer use then wear them! The worst thing you can do is to wait until you get a headache before you put your glasses on, as by this time the damage is already done! By wearing your glasses from the start of the day you are much more likely to prevent eye strain and headaches from developing in the first place. If you are reading this article and suffer from any of the symptoms above and have never had your eyes tested then I would strongly recommend that you book in for an eye test. A large percentage of computer users need glasses but don’t realise it! If you hate the idea of wearing glasses or contact lenses then you could always consider laser eye surgery!
5. Glare on the screen: One of the major causes of both eye strain and headaches (especially frontal) is glare on the computer screen. Glare is typically caused by poorly directed lighting in the room and is generally easy to correct. It is also common to get glare if you sit near a window as the sun can shine directly onto your screen. Moving your computer screen away from the window or at least changing the angle of your screen can significantly reduce the glare. It is also possible to fit an anti-glare screen to your monitor or alternatively have a coating applied to your eye glasses if you wear them.
In summary, if you are someone who works on the computer screen for long periods of time then you owe to yourself to at least follow these simple bits of advice. You will be surprised at how much more productive you will be and you will also leave work feeling less tired, allowing you to enjoy your recreational time even more!
This guest article was written by Optometrist Tim Harwood who has given advice to 1000,s of people who spend all day working on the computer. The advice in this article is what I give to my patients and I hope it will help you as it has helped them. In addition to Optometry Tim also provides information for his own website TreatmentSaver.com which provides information on a whole range of laser eye surgery topics including the risks and cost of the procedure. Tim also regularly answers questions in the Treatmentsaver eye surgery forum which provides guidance for people considering having the treatment.