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Computer Eye Strain: How Teachers and Students Can Reduce Eye Strain From Computer Use

Posted by The Vision Therapy Center

Reducing Eye Strain From Computer Use

As more and more schoolwork is being performed online and with mobile devices, parents and teachers are continuing to search for new ways to reduce eye strain from computer use.  We’ve compiled a number of tips for students, parents and teachers to help reduce computer eye strain.

What Causes Eye Strain From Computer Screens?

Eye strain from computer screens is typically referred to as Computer Vision Syndrome, or Digital Eye Strain.  According to the American Optometric Association, it “describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use.”

Many individuals experience eye discomfort and vision problems when viewing screens, such as a computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone, for an extended period of time.

The causes, as noted by the AOA, include:

  • Poor lighting
  • The glare on a digital screen
  • Improper viewing distance
  • Poor seating posture
  • Uncorrected vision problems
  • A combination of all of these factors

What are Symptoms of Eye Strain From Computer Use?

The symptoms of eye strain include (again from the AOA):

  • Eye strain
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry eyes
  • Neck and shoulder pain

Those are the causes and the symptoms. So what can you do to prevent eye strain?

Students and Parents: How to Prevent Eye Strain From Computer Use

1. Start using the right light
It is least stressful for vision when the room where the computer is being used is evenly lit (no areas are brighter than others). Natural light and the type of light produced from incandescent bulbs are best for computer use. 

If your only option is fluorescent lighting, go with a full-spectrum fluorescent bulb such as those available from OttLite.

2. Reduce glare from your computer screen

Glare is a big no-no on your computer monitor.  Try to position your monitor so there is no reflection on your screen from a light or window.

3. Use a comfortable size text  

In a time when people have two or three monitors at their work station, it’s easy to find yourself straining at the small print on a secondary monitor.  Even if this isn’t your current setup, make sure you are viewing print that’s large enough for easy viewing.

Fourteen point is optimal.

For most fonts, fourteen point is optimal, but twelve point will do.  The ultimate barometer will be if the print size is easy to see and doesn’t require you lean close to the monitor or strain to the see the letters.

4. Use the Harmon distance

All near-point activity, whether you’re on the computer or reading a book, should be at the “Harmon distance.”  This is the distance from the center of the middle knuckle to the center of the elbow, measured on the outside of the arm.

5. Stop slouching!

We hate to sound like your mother, but slouching in your chair will affect how you’re viewing your monitor.  Ideally, you want both eyes to be able to see the screen equally to avoid slouching in a chair, or lying in a couch or bed.  

Sit at a desk, with your feet flat on the floor, legs at a 90 degree angle and the monitor straight ahead.

6. Focus on different objects 

You’ve probably heard of the 20-20-20 rule:  Every 20 minutes, focus on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.  We agree with that for patients without functional vision problems, but for those that have problems we recommend taking a break every 10 minutes and focusing on an object at least 20 feet away for 10 seconds.

Take a break!

We recommend getting up and moving around for 5 minutes every hour. Look at the farthest objects available and think about the three dimensionality of the space around you. This gets your eyes to focus at different distances and away from the two-dimensional screen, which is really what we’re after.

Now let’s turn our attention to what teachers can do.

Teachers: How to Reduce Eye Strain From Computer Use

As the use of computers becomes ubiquitous in the classroom, parents and educators need to be aware of how important reducing computer eye strain will be for a new generation.

We’ve written about how one of our doctors wears a special prescription to prevent computer eye strain.  It’s inevitable that many of these types of issues will continue to occur in the future as we become increasingly dependent on computers.  

The key to avoiding vision problems is to practice good visual hygiene to reduce visual stress, and that includes the items listed here:

1. Talk to your administration about proper lighting

We mentioned above how important it is to have the right light.  Students and parents can take care of that at home, but it’s up to teachers and administration to ensure there is the right type of light in your classroom.

Natural light is best.

Remember, natural light is best when using computers, and this tends to be best produced by sunlight or incandescent bulbs.  If fluorescents are a must, consider using a full-spectrum fluorescent bulb like those available from OttLite

2. Be mindful of your windows

There was a time when we discouraged kids from looking out the windows and daydreaming instead of focusing on their studies.  Now we actually want students to look out the window on occasion (check out the 20-20-20 rule above) and focus on faraway objects.

Windows can be good, but be mindful of the glare they can produce.  This can lead to eyestrain.

3. Watch for correct placement and posture

We mentioned the Harmon Distance above.  But posture is also important, as well as placement of the media (centered), the child’s feet (flat on the ground) and other factors.  Read this article for more details.

4. Make iPads into slant board (if you’re not already using one)  

We’ve encouraged teachers to use slant boards for reading and writing. Most iPads come with a cover that folds together and forms a convenient slant board.  This allows the screen to be viewed at the proper angle. Ideally, you want your screen upright, but at a 20 to 30 degree slant, instead of lying flat on the desk or table.

iPads should be slanted.

5. Take the kids outside

Teachers love recess just as much as kids, but the outdoors provides more than just exercise.  It also allows a student’s eyes to interact with a distant visual space, which is a less stressful visual demand than a nearpoint task. Hopefully your school does not allow electronic equipment on the playground.

The outdoors is a great place for a break from computer screens.  Make sure students are playing tag, kickball or some other sport that requires their visual system to match where they see something and where it actually is.

The impact of computers can be a double-edged sword. They open up immense educational possibilities.  They also can lead to issues like digital eye strain if we’re not careful.  Use these recommendations, both at home and in the school, to avoid issues.  And download our poster on how to avoid Computer Vision Syndrome for more details.

Free Tip Sheet on how to Avoid Computer Vision Syndrome

Topics: Vision and Learning, Computer Vision Syndrome