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Are your Eyes feeling the Strain?

on Tuesday, 03 September 2013. Posted in Office Ergonomics

eye strain sized

With so many of us using computers at work these days, computer eye strain has become one of the major office-related health complaints. Studies show that more than 50% of computer users experience eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision and other visual symptoms.

These symptoms can lead to body fatigue and reduced efficiency at work. In this article we explain why eyes get tired with sustained computer use. We also discuss some great tips and exercises to help you look after your eyes better.

Why do we get tired eyes?

Our eyes are an amazingly intricate part of our body. These days we require our eyes to work very hard, even during a normal working day at the office.

We now use our eyes in ways that are quite different than in the past. In generations gone by, the human eye was often needed for spotting game or sensing danger at a distance. However, during the last 50 years or so, nearly all our work and much of our recreation (e.g. video games, reading), has shifted the focus of our vision to an arm's length distance. As well as this, many of our computer based tasks demand increasingly complex eye movements and focusing skills.

During a normal working day in the office we require the eye ball to move position and focus many times over. Eye positioning is controlled by a set of external eyes muscles that move the eyeball to our desired direction (See fig. 1).

ext eye muscles

Fig. 1 The external muscles of the eye that move our eye-ball

In a separate action, our eye’s ability to focus is controlled by the internal Ciliary muscle. When we need to focus on close objects (like our computer screen) the Ciliary muscle must contract (or tighten) to allow the eye’s lense to become thicker (See fig 2).

eye close

Fig. 2 Eye cross-section showing close focus

When we look at distant objects the internal Ciliary muscle relaxes causing the eye’s lense to become thinner (See fig 3)

eye distant

Fig. 3 Eye cross-section when distant focus

Given the number of complex movements we require of our eyes each day, it is little wonder that our eye muscles begin to feel strain.

How do I know if I am experiencing eye strain?

Below is a list of some of the common symptoms that people experience with eye strain. Do you experience any of these symptoms?

  • headaches during or following computer use
  • irritated and/or dry eyes
  • blurred vision
  • slow refocusing when looking from a computer screen to objects at a distance
  • frequently losing your place when moving your eyes between print copy and the computer screen
  • difficulty seeing clearly at a distance after prolonged computer use
  • occasional doubling of vision
  • changes in color perception

What causes eye strain and what can I do about it?

The most obvious cause of eye strain from sustained computer use is tired eyes. We have listed 4 other causes below, including suggested solutions:

  1. 1. Primary or Direct Glare

    Primary glare is direct glare and can be caused by facing a window or by a ceiling light shining directly into your eyes. In this case your eyes look at the monitor but are constantly compensating for the bright light in front of them. It is possible to eliminate primary glare by closing drapes, shades or blinds. If possible, position your monitor so that windows are to the side of it, instead of in front or back.

  2. 2. Secondary or Reflected Glare

    Secondary glare is reflective glare and is most often caused by having a window behind you or a ceiling light reflected off the screen into your eyes. Your eyes look at the monitor but have to compensate for the reflected light while looking at the normal screen brightness. You may want to install an anti-glare screen on your monitor and, if possible, paint bright white walls a darker color with a matt finish.

  3. 3. The setup of the brightness and contrast of your computer screen

    Adjust the display settings on your computer so the brightness of the screen is about the same as your work environment. Also, adjust the screen settings to make sure the contrast between the screen background and the on-screen characters is high (See chart 1 below). In addition, make sure that the text size and color are optimized for the most comfort.

    textcontrast

    Chart 1. Color On Your Computer Screen, retrieved from http://www.allaboutvision.com/cvs/irritated.ht

  4. 4. Computer eye strain

    The most common ergonomic monitor problems are related to sitting too close to the monitor, placing the monitor too high or too low, or viewing the monitor placed too far to one side of the desk. Therefore, make sure that your computer workstation is set up in an ergonomically correct fashion

How can I further reduce eye strain?

Like any other part of the body, the eye muscles need exercise. Eye exercises help keep eye muscles strong and active. Exercise also helps to relieve the strain of looking at a computer screen for extended periods. Here are some eye exercises you can do to help relieve tired eyes.

  1. Exercise 1: Blink more often

    The air in many office environments is dry, which can increase the evaporation rate of your tears. Blinking is very important when working at a computer as it re-wets your eyes to avoid dryness and irritation. When working at a computer, people frequently blink less, in fact about five times less than they do normally.

    Try this exercise: Every 20 minutes, blink 10 times very slowly by closing your eyes as if falling asleep. This will help rewet your eyes

  2. Exercise 2: Eye Aerobics

    Keeping the back and neck straight and the head still, look as high as possible, and look down. Repeat this movement 10 times. Close and rest the eyes for about 30 seconds before moving to the next exercise.

    Keeping the eyes wide open, look as far to the right as possible, and then to the left. Repeat this movement 10 times, close and rest the eyes for 30 seconds.

    Make wide circles with your eyes by rolling them clockwise. Perform at least 10 circles. Repeat the exercise counter-clockwise. Close and relax the eyes

  3. Exercise 3: Palming to Relax Your Eyes

    This palming exercise will teach you to relax your eyes.

    First, rub your hands together until they feel warm (about 15 to 20 seconds). Then place your cupped hands over your closed eyes, being careful not to touch your eyes with the palms of your hands. The fingers of each hand should overlap and rest gently on the center of your forehead. Don't create any unnecessary pressure on your face. If your arms get tired, rest your elbows on a table.

    Sit quietly for one to two minutes with your hands over your eyes. The more relaxed you become, the blacker the darkness you will see with your eyes close.

  4. Exercise 4: Improve Your Visual Focus

    Go outside and look at something in the far distance, at least a mile away. It doesn't matter if you can really "see" it or not. Looking at objects in the far distance is a good way to work on the muscles that help with eye focus. Hold this position for five seconds.

    Then choose something about 10 metres away and try to focus on it as clearly as possible. Hold this position for five seconds

    Then look at something mid-range, or about a block away. Try to focus as clearly as possible. Hold this position for five seconds

    Pick a point as far away as possible and try to focus as much as you can. Hold this position for five seconds

    Repeat this exercise several times a day

  5. Exercise 5: Scanning to Improve Eye Flexiblity

    While sitting or standing at one end of a room, let your eyes scan around the edges of objects in the room - clocks, televisions, doors, lights, computers, etc. The object of this exercise is to keep your eyes moving in a loose and fluid way

    Do this exercise for two minutes

Act Now – Liven up tired eyes!

The health of your eyes is very important. Try the suggestions and exercises in this article to enhance your eye health. If after following these suggestions you continue to have eye-strain symptoms, we highly recommend that you visit an optician

Quote

“Few people get weak eyes from looking on the bright side”- Anonymous

Author

Ross Thomson, a Director of Joyworkz Ltd.

References

Amen, D. 2005. Making a Good Brain Great. New York: Harmony Books.

Ashel J. 1998 Visual ergonomics in the workplace. London: Taylor & Francis. 1998.

Galinsky D, et al. 2007. ‘Supplementary breaks and stretching exercises for data entry operators: A follow-up field study.’ American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Vol. 50, pp 519-527.

Lim S., et al. 1998. ‘Occupational health aspects of working with video display terminals.’ Environmental and Occupational Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven, pp 1333-1344.

Wan, L. 2008. Computer Eye Strain: 10 Steps For Relief. Retrieved 16/2/09 http://www.allaboutvision.com/cvs/irritated.htm

Tips, training and resources

Staff training: Ergonomic training for staff can motivating and help staff know that you care. Joyworkz offer a range of appropriate workplace wellness seminars including "Being a Happy Computer User" that assist staff to be healthy and happy at work.

Computer Workstation Desk Assessment and Set up: It is important for the prevention of discomfort, pain and injury that staff workstations and desks are set up correctly. Check out the Joyworkz free practical guide to carry out a workstation assessment. Alternatively, Joyworkz can complete thorough and professional ergonomic workstation assessments for your staff, to ensure that all reasonable risks are mitigated. Joyworkz also offer Computer ergonomic assessment training, popular with large organisations, when staff are trained to perform workstation assessments for their colleagues.

A wellness programme: Consider a workplace health challenge to get employees moving. If you need help getting started designing a made to measure wellness programme, consider Joyworkz SimplyWell™ consultancy package, which takes the stress out of designing a workplace wellness programme.

HabitatWork (ACC): HabitAtWork is a free online educational tool promoting self-help and problem solving for preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injury.

Visual prompts: Visual prompts in the workplace can be useful. For instance, posters such as the Alsco A4 Look Away poster poster or the Alsco Computer Users Health Guide wall chart can also be printed out and kept visible for staff.

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