How To Combat Computer Vision Syndrome — It's A Thing

Photographed by Claire Pepper.
Think about a typical work day: You check your email on your phone. You go into the office, grab some coffee, and sit at a desk. And, for the next eight hours or so, you stare at a computer screen, taking a few breaks for lunch, meetings, and the occasional bathroom break.

But, what does all of that staring at a screen do to your eyes? It turns out, a lot. In fact, the aftermath it's so damaging that there is now a medical term for it: Computer Vision Syndrome. The symptoms include dry, itchy eyes, typically after staring at a screen, tablet, or phone.

"The reason why dryness occurs is because people tend to decrease their blink rate when concentrating or staring at something for an extended period of time," Robert Latkany, MD, of Physician Eyecare of New York, told us via email. It's not just computers — staring at anything for a lengthy period of time could reduce your blink rate, and "the less you blink the less you spread the tears over your eyes and prevent dryness."

Typically eye doctors recommend following the 20-20-20 rule, where computer users should take a break after 20 minutes of computer use, looking at objects that are 20 feet away for at least 20 second. This breaks your concentration and forces you to stop staring at one place, thereby allowing your eyes to blink more.

"If you are not blinking, you run the risk of the skin of the surface of the eye breaking down and small erosions form," Latkany says. "This could result in intermittent blurriness, burning, and dryness." You could also feel like something is in your eye, and of course, if you're rubbing your eyes and can't visually focus on anything, your productivity will decrease. Few people can continue staring at a screen if their eyes are bothering them.

Aside from the 20-20-20 rule, heavy computer users could also use artificial tears to keep their eyes hydrated, Latkany says, and adjusting your work environment could also help, like getting rid of fans or vents pointed at your face, which would dry out your eyes faster. "Looking down at the computer screen is better than straight ahead as your eyes are not as open when looking down. That will lead to less surface exposure and less likely for your eyes to be dry," Latkany says.

The easiest method to combat eye dryness, however, is to simply blink more. Luckily, there are a number of apps that you can install to remind yourself to blink, like EyeLeo, for Windows, and Coffee Break for Macs. Or, just go for the old-fashioned method and stick a post-it on your screen with "BLINK" written in all-caps.
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