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Work could be damaging your eyes

The average office worker spends about seven hours a day staring at a computer or laptop screen. In between and afterwards, there are also a few doses of smart phone or tablet screen time. This prolonged exposure to screens wreaks havoc on the eyes and can lead to vision related problems.

“When we think of eye care in the workplace, thoughts go to the use of protective goggles used by factory workers. However, computer vision syndrome, also known as digital eye strain, is a very common yet lesser acknowledged cause of vision problems associated with our workplaces.

“Blue light, which emits from the screens of computers, laptops and smart phones, is harmful to eyes because it has the highest energy wavelength of visible light and this penetrates right through the eyes’ natural filters, to the back of the eye. This exposure over time can cause damage to the back of the eyes, increasing the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and permanent vision loss.

“Constantly staring at a screen also contributes to fatigue, blurred vision, watery eyes and headaches which can affect our productivity at work. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you could be suffering from digital eye strain and some corrective action is needed,” says Zelda van Coller, optometrist at Zelda van Coller Optometrists Dynamic Vision.

Simple tactics can also help to reduce digital eye strain. For instance, van Coller says that screens should be correctly positioned at least an arm’s length away and at 20 degrees below eye level. Screens should also be positioned so that sunlight or artificial light don’t shine onto them, producing unwanted glare. In office spaces where there are large windows or it is difficult to prevent the reflection of light by changing the position of the screen, an anti-glare screen fitted to the monitor can help to reduce the intensity of the glare.

Computer screens should not be overly bright. In fact, the brightness should be almost the same as the brightness level as the workspace. A too bright or too dark screen can cause strain to the eyes. If the font size is an issue, change the settings on the computer to prevent having to lean forward or squint to read what is on the screen.

“It is also advisable to take a break from your screen every 20 minutes or so. Remember the 20/20/20 rule where you look up from your screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds at least 20 feet away. Also try to blink more frequently. Ordinarily, we blink about 12 times per minute but when we are looking at a screen, we blink less, sometimes as little as five times in a minute. Blinking more will help to keep your eyes lubricated and reduce dryness and other irritations.

“If you are waking up every day with red and irritated eyes, you can relieve the symptoms with artificial tear drops or gel eye drops to relieve discomfort. However, please ask your optometrist to advise you on the best eye drops that is most suitable for your eyes to get the best results. Be careful to purchase eye drops from the chemist before consulting your optometrist.”

She says that regular eye tests to identify vision problems early, and adopting appropriate vision correction, will help to prevent damage to the eyes and improve productivity.

“To protect your eyes from damaging screens, ask your optometrist about the latest anti-glare coatings and blue light protected lenses that are available. There are many lens options available specifically designed for people who spend many hours in front of LED screens,” advises van Coller.

Van Coller concludes: “Your wellbeing and performance at work is inextricably linked with your vision. If you are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms such as tired, red, irritated or watery eyes, it is going to hamper your productivity. Take steps to limit the strain you place on your eyes while working at a computer screen. If you suspect any problems with your eyesight, make an appointment to see your optometrist.”

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