We've all been spending way too much time—as in, hours and hours—staring at computer screens or those of our smartphones, and that has an effect on our eyesight (yes, that includes you, person with 20/20 vision all your young life). Our vision gets more blurry, and we get migraines or eye twitching. Doctors have an umbrella term for all these screen-induced discomfort: computer vision syndrome.
Computer vision syndrome (CVS) can be caused by a number of things like reading from an extremely bright screen, having your eyes too close to the screen, and reading small text. According to Dr. Joshua Dunaief, an ophthalmologist and macular degeneration researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, CVS is rooted in two issues: your eyes have dried out or they've become too fatigued or strained to see properly.
Dr. Dunaief explains that "There are tiny muscles inside [our] eyeball that change the shape of [our] eye's lens in order to bring whatever [we]'re seeing into focus. In some cases, those muscles become so fatigued that [our] eyes can no longer focus." This results in blurred vision.
There's also research that found that when we're reading or working online, we tend to blink less (from blinking an average of 16 times a minute to just six times a minute), which leads to dry eyes, tearing, a burning sensation, or an infection that can bring about sore eyes.
While CVS can be short-lived (especially when you aren't in front of a screen all day, seven days a week), the symptoms can worsen in a matter of months and our eyes can still be permanently damaged.
We can keep our eyes from getting worse by doing the following:
1. Live by the 20-20-20 rule.
Look away from the screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds and focus on a fixed point 20 feet away. The 20-20-20 rule will protect your eyes, and according to optometrist Andrea Thau, it works best when you do it regularly.
2. Don't stay too close to the screen.
When you're reading or looking at something that's really close to your eyes, your eyes are working hard—much harder than when you're looking at something far away from you, according to Dr. Joan Portello, a professor at the State University of New York School of Optometry.
3. Fix your workstation in such a way that your eyes are at the same level with the top of the monitor.
Your eyes focus best when they're looking down, and partially closed lids fight dry eyes.
4. Cut down on the glare.
The brightness of the screen strains your eyes and can increase your risk of CVS.
5. Check with your doctor if you need computer glasses to help with the contrast, glare, and eye strain when you're using a computer.
Computer glasses reduce strain by helping your midrange vision.
6. Make sure your glasses or contact lens are up-to-date and enough for computer use.
Even a small flaw in your vision, if uncorrected, can exacerbate the symptoms of CVS.
7. Blink more.
Slowly blink your eyes (like you're falling asleep); this'll stop them from drying out and help them focus again.
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