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The Rumor: You can damage your eyes by looking at a computer screen for too long

After staring at a monitor for hours on end, have your eyes ever felt dry, itchy or irritated? Has your vision become blurry, or have you even seen double? Has your head begun to pound because of all the squinting and straining? Annoying eye problems like these call for eyedrops -- or maybe for dropping your computer off a cliff. But are Macs and PCs really to blame for our eyestrain?

The Verdict: Computer use can definitely strain your eyes -- but there are ways to combat the damage

Studies have shown that between 50 and 90 percent of people who work in front of a computer screen have some symptoms of eye trouble. "We definitely see a lot of people who complain of eyestrain," says opthalmologist Brian Boxer Wachler, MD. "Hours upon hours of close focusing without taking a break is usually the main culprit.” The problem is so common, there’s even a name for it: Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).

Wachler says that people usually blink around 18 times per minute, which refreshes the eyes naturally. But blink rates are reduced when staring at a computer screen or other digital device, and this can make your eyes burn, dry out, turn red or feel itchy.

Sitting too close to your computer monitor, or holding a digital device closer to your eyes than you would normally hold a book or newspaper, also poses a problem, according to Wachler. “This forces your eyes to work harder than usual as you strain to focus on tiny font sizes,” he warns.

Common symptoms of eyestrain and/or CVS include: sore eyes, dry eyes, teary eyes, blurry vision, double vision, light sensitivity, difficulty focusing on images, neck pain, headache or a combination of all of the above.

Instead of turning a blind eye to the damage computers are doing to your eyes, there are quick and easy steps you can take to reduce eyestrain triggers. Jeffrey Anshel, OD, FAAO, founder of Corporate Vision Counseling and author of the Visual Ergonomics Handbooksuggests first lowering your monitor. “Because conventional reading is normally done with the book or magazine held in a lowered position, having your monitor in a straight-ahead position is unnatural,” he says. “The top of the screen should be level with the eyes of the user, allowing for a slightly lowered viewing angle.”

Next, reduce glare by angling the monitor so that you can see no reflections of any lights on the front surface of the monitor. The preferred viewing distance is between 20 and 40 inches from the eye to the front surface of the computer screen.

Anshel suggests taking what he calls the “three Bs approach”: Blink, breathe and break. Because we blink less frequently when starting at a monitor, remember to blink often to moisten and refresh your eyes. Correct breathing can relax the eye muscles, so be conscious of your breathing -- especially in stressful situations, when people tend to hold their breath. And because computer work often requires intense concentration, frequent breaks are a must. “Our eyes are just not designed to be used at that close distance for a long period of time,” he says. “Remember the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds and look 20 feet away.”

By making these minor adjustments, says Anshel, you’ll reduce eyestrain and improve your overall health, too. “There is no one solution to all types of problems encountered with computer use,” he concludes, “but, with a little research, the answer to many of these problems may be right before your eyes.”


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