Burning eyes, tired eyes, eye fatigue and irritation, pain in the eyes, dry eyes, excessive tearing, frequently blinking and squinting, frequent headaches, blurry vision, focusing difficulties.
Raise your hand if you have ever asked yourself “why are my eyes burning?” and experienced one of these symptoms or, even worse, more of them together, especially after looking at a phone screen for a long time or after working long hours in front of your computer especially in low-light conditions.
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Everybody’s eyes feel tired now and again, but those specific symptoms of feeling the eyes burning or being irritated, stinging, itchy, tired, sore, or even mildly painful, are clear signs of a real issue called Asthenopia or more commonly known as eye strain.
Eye strain, or Asthenopia, is the result of extended and excessive use of the muscles that control the movements of the eye.
It is important to specify that eye strain is not just a digital related problem. In fact, any activity that requires intense use of the eyes – such as an extended amount of driving, reading or writing – can cause eye fatigue or eye strain.
Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) or Digital Eye Strain, describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use.
The level of discomfort appears to increase with the amount of digital devices and screen use. More than two consecutive hours looking at a computer screen is enough to be at risk of being affected by Computer Vision Syndrome, and this issue is more relevant than ever in a time where we are more and more surrounded by digital devices of any sort, anytime, either for work, leisure or necessity.
But don’t worry, you are not alone. In fact, The Vision Council claims that 65% of Americans are reporting symptoms of digital eye strain due to the constant exposure to technology.
You may have tired or burning eyes if you’re experiencing the following symptoms:
Working at a computer is much more visually demanding than many other tasks or standard office work, such as reading or writing printed documents. Just think for a moment about aspects like screen resolution, precision and sharpness of text, contrast, image refresh rates, screen flicker, screen glare, improper viewing distances and angles. All this itself makes viewing more difficult.
Moreover, while working at the computer you need to perform more frequent eye movements: from your notebook to the computer screen, from the keyboard to the screen, or from one side of the screen quickly to the other one so to peek at the notification that just popped on the corner, and all this again and again for hours. And, while doing all these movements, your eyes also have to constantly change focus in order to maintain a clear image.
This huge amount of work for your eyes, if performed for a prolonged time, is normally way beyond the visual abilities that one individual is comfortable to perform.
Another cause for tired eyes is a decrease in our blink rate as we stare at the computer screen or while reading. We actually blink 66% less while working on the computer. This will cause your eyes to feel dry and to burn.
Inadequate, poor or even excessive lighting can strain the eyes.
Intense eye focus situations where you keep squinting, such as working on a small craft project, reading small texts and excessive writing in poor light conditions, and even driving at night can cause tired eyes.
Burning eyes have a lot to do with how you use your computer, and your digital devices in general, and the environment around you while using it.
So, if your computer screen is causing you pain in your eyes, here are some guidelines you can follow to help you ease and prevent the symptoms:
To decrease eye movements, it is important to position the monitor directly in front of your face and not on the side. The screen should be placed so that its center is 15 to 20 degrees (about 10 or 12 cm) below your eyes level and about 50 to 70 cm – or about an arm’s length – away from your face.
Eye strain is often caused by excessive sunlight coming in through the window or by bright room lighting. It is though very important to balance the brightness of the screen and the environment around. Remember that when you use a computer, your ambient lighting should be about half as bright as what is typically found in most offices. Use blinds or drapes on windows and replace the light bulbs in desk lamps with bulbs of lower wattage: in general lighting levels between 200 and 700 lux measured at the workstation are recommended.
You can use the “visor test” to determine if the current lighting in the room is a problem. Simply cup your hands over the eyes like a baseball cap to block the lights while looking at the monitor. If an improvement is immediately noticed, then lighting changes should be made.
You should always position the computer screen so as to avoid glare and reflections. Avoid both facing and sitting with your back to an unshaded window, since in the former the difference in brightness between the screen and the area behind will be uncomfortable and in the latter it will cause too many shadows. You can find help by installing an anti-glare filter on the monitor and adjusting the screen’s contrast and brightness. When possible, you can paint bright white walls with a darker color with a matte finish.
Ideally, you should always place the reference material as close as possible to the screen, preferably above the keyboard and just below the monitor. When this is not possible, you should use a document holder and place it beside the monitor. This will ensure as few movements as possible of the head back and forth, and it minimizes the need for your eyes to continuously re-focus on different subjects.
While working at the computer, it is always important to follow the standard guidelines of good posture. Use adjustable equipment to reduce overall strain, especially on the back, neck, shoulders and eyes. Adjust the chair’s height so that your knees are bent at a 90 degree angle and your feet rest flat on the floor. Sit straight against the backrest and position the keyboard and mouse within easy reach of the hands. Your head should be slightly tilted down looking at the center of the screen.
Remember that while working at the computer we actually blink less, and this makes your eyes dry. So, try to blink frequently – maybe helping yourself to remind it by keeping a small note on your computer screen – and if that doesn’t work, consider using moisturizing lubricant eye drops. If you have a fan in the room or blowing on your face, that’s another reason for dry eyes. In this case you can help yourself with a humidifier.
Make sure to regularly clean your monitor. Fingerprints, dust and other airborne particles regularly accumulate on the face of the computer screen, decreasing the contrast and sharpness of the digital content and making your eyes work harder.
A rule of thumb for a comfortable text should be three times the smallest size you can read from a normal viewing position, or 50-75 cm from your monitor. About color combinations, it’s preferable black text on a white background.
Of course, also the color of your monitor plays an important role for your eyes. The screen of your computer is normally very bright with a bluish hue, very similar to the one of daylight. While this may be ideal for working during the day, once night, the brightness of the screen becomes very stressful for your eyes. Moreover, blue light is short-wavelength visible light that is associated with more eye strain than longer-wavelength hues, such as orange and red.
To alleviate the symptoms of eye strain, you can also try a very easy and quick to perform eye massage. Simply rub your hands together so to create friction and warmth, then gently cup your palms over your closed eyes and rest them.
After sitting in the same position for a prolonged period of time, it is fundamental to take regular breaks, so to give your eyes and body a pause from computer work and reduce overall fatigue. Stand up, take a bit of time out, look around and do a little muscles stretching. This will relax your eyes and refresh your body increasing alertness and leading to higher productivity.
If you can’t take a break and stand up, then the 20-20-20 rule trick is for you and it will help you save your eyes from more fatigue. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Easy, isn’t it?
In any case, if you have pain or burning, itchy, or tired eyes, it’s always important to see an eye doctor to make sure a more serious medical condition isn’t to blame.