Question: I am struggling to figure out how to reduce stress on my eyes. I have seen an ophthalmologist and a neurologist. The first said there is nothing wrong with my eyes, the latter that it is computer vision syndrome due to overuse. I am certain it is a technology issue as well as a health/sensitivity problem. Otherwise, there would be no way to have two devices next to each other where one causes eye stress and the other doesn’t.
I’ve also tried to pay close attention to what my eyes and eye muscles are doing while looking into the digital devices causing visual stress – there is definitely an inability to focus and a lot of tension. However, when I look away to focus (on part of the phone that is not the display for example), the eyes automatically relax. However, this has to be done often if I don’t want a migraine to develop and is quite annoying as you can imagine.
For you personally, is using a blue light filter for PC sufficient to relieve your eye strain? Stated differently, is the issue in blue light and you have figured out filters to get rid of it?
Yes and no. For me it is blue light, but not only blue light. In fact, the solution is a mosaic of many little things that help reduce eye stress thus improving my eye comfort in addition to filtering blue light emitted by my screens.
Before listing everything I do to reduce eye strain, you should be aware of all known causes that lead to eye stress and there are many that are related to digital screens (see What causes computer eye strain). Any of them might have to do with your eye strain headaches.
But you are well on your way to finding a solution because you are researching the issue of eye stress. You are also observing attentively how your visual stress responds to the different actions you take. Both are important in this process.
Disclaimer: My interest in visual stress is due to my problems with light sensitivity (photophobia), discomfort glare, and computer eye strain. I am not a vision scientist or medical doctor.
How I reduce my eye stress
I hope you don’t get turned off by the list length, or after reading the first few points. Don’t worry, in your case needs not be as bad :)!
Also, the list below is NOT meant to serve as an example of what everyone should do to improve visual comfort. You can try some of the things to see if they work for you, but eventually, you’ll have to come up with your own, personalized answer to the question: How to reduce stress on eyes.
Lastly, a few words of encouragement for those who might be in a similar position as I am. You might think that a person who has to redo their life by cutting severely into their digital screen time is doomed. From the perspective of what’s become a norm of life in the western world that could be true. What is particularly difficult is to figure out how to make a living with lower dependence on digital screens.
But, I’ve discovered so many other things that can make you happy, happier than if I spend that time with a screen (?), that I can easily say that I am happier today than I’d been before. Maybe for you too, this condition is can become an opportunity to (re)discover (and indulge in) all those non-screen related things that can make you happy.
I’ve written about most of these issues in detail on this site, so links to corresponding articles are provided.
Glare and reflection free computer lighting
To give an example: 6 weeks ago I had to change my office. I painstakingly tried to set up the lighting as it had been, but must have missed several details. In the meanwhile, my computer eye-strain (dry eyes, glare sensitivity, and eventually insomnia) has slowly gotten worse. When I start having sleeping troubles, my visual discomfort from computer becomes a vicious cycle: as I can’t sleep my eyes rest less so glare sensitivity and dry eyes get worse and subsequently my sleep deteriorates further – and so on in a downward spiral.
So now I am doing fine-tuning and it seems to be slowly getting better. The recovery is always slow – as was the deterioration. And that is what is so tricky about this chronic condition: when you realize it’s hit you it is already quite bad. Also, whatever you do to improve visual comfort takes time to show results. So you have to be patient and refrain from doing too many changes at once, or you’ll have difficulties in figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
As it is I may have to take a week off from screen-work to fully recover – we’ll see.
Note that, in my case, fully recover means to get back to how it was about 2 months ago, which is still quite a limiting chronic computer eye strain condition. When you are done reading this you’ll get a better picture of what I mean.
If you allow me a short digression – you’d laugh if you saw me right now as I am writing this. In my effort to fine-tune the office setup I am wearing a dark Sou-wester Hat (commission link). It is great because it blocks most of the light coming onto my computer glasses lenses from behind. That light causes eye strain because it reflects back into my eyes. It is faint, ghost images, something hard to notice, but my eyes feel it! (This article goes into more detail on veiling glare on glasses and otherwise). If due to the hat, my eye-strain improves, I’ll know I’ll either have to always wear it for screen-based work :(, or make everything behind me darker so that there is less light that causes veiling glare.
Here is an image of me right now – let me know in the comments if it made you laugh :).
Use orange text on black background – with minimum screen brightness, most of the time (note that low screen brightness on many screens is achieved through more flicker which may cause visual stress, so be careful with low brightness – for some people it might be preferable to use an app such as f.lux or Iris to lower brightness.
Screen exposure limit – a maximum of 6 hours per week-day (clocked!). No exposure to digital screens on weekends and evenings to give my eyes sufficient time to recover.
Regular breaks – I used to do a 20s break every 10 min, to focus on far away objects, blink, do an eye massage, etc…, and a longer 5-10 min break every hour. When I started wearing blue-blocking glasses (in addition to iris/flux) I was able to reduce breaks to a 3 min break every half hour. Also, I split screen-time into two, 2-3hr blocks of time with a longer, 2-3hr break in between that I dedicate to other, non-screen based work, preferably in sunlight.
Sunlight – Whenever possible I do breaks outside in the sunlight (including the sunning eye exercise) – to benefit from IR-A radiation which is missing in digital screen light (and other energy saving light sources),
More sunlight – the remaining hours of the work-day I try to spend in sunlight, doing non-sedentary work (e.g. gardening) – if not possible, I might read research papers (printed only!)
No sitting at computer desk – most of the time I bike while doing computer work (it can be light paddling, as long as I am moving. Less frequently, I stand at my desk (sometimes on a balance-board) – this is important for making me feel better at the end of the workday. And it helps me sleep a lot better!
No TV – I don’t watch TV so it doesn’t eat into my screen exposure time – this one was not difficult for me as I hadn’t watched TV for many years before I started having issues with eye stress.
No smart-phone – I don’t use a smart-phone (principally because their screens tend to be bright and letters very small which doesn’t tend to be good for eye stress. Also, given what a smart-phone has to offer, the temptation to use it would probably beat my will to keep screen exposure time down. We’ll see how long I can hold back as smart-phones become increasingly useful.
No reading under artificial lights – I read only with natural light and only printed text. If I try to read under artificial light I quickly feel the dry eyes symptom worsen.
Omega 3 oils – I take omega-3 rich oils each morning to reduce symptoms of dry and itchy eyes.
Hot & cold eye strain relief – luckily my visual stress has improved since figuring out everything outlined above such that I almost never have to do this quick fix treatment. But before that, I’d had to do it every half hour or so throughout the day.
I think that’s about it. For me it is either I do this, or I drop computer related work.
How to reduce your eye stress
I know the list above sounds like a lot of things. And I hope you won’t need to do all of them. Though you might need to include some others. That is up to you to discover – this site’s mission is to help you in discovering your recipe faster.
Like me, you’ll probably go discovering this type of measures slowly, one by one. So the changes are gradual, an evolution, and you just get used to living this way.
The only major revolution is to accept that you are prone to computer eye strain and that you can’t (ab)use your eyes with digital screens like a great majority of people.
I have to go now – I am overdue for my midday break :):