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Digital Eye Strain

The modern age we live in presents us with so many privileges. There are things we take for granted that our ancestors could have hardly imagined. People who lived 100 or even 50 years ago would be bewildered by so much that seems normal to us: our ability to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world instantaneously, access to nearly infinite sources of entertainment with the flick of a thumb, not to mention the fact that we all carry around the means to instantly access the sum total all information the human race has accumulated since we first came down out of the trees.

But even when we contemplate these changes to our knowledge and ability to access it, we rarely think about the changes that living in this miraculous electronic age exact on our bodies. No matter how modern you may consider yourself, the fact of the matter is we were simply not designed to sit still and stare at a glowing screen for eight to ten hours a day–which is usually followed by another few hours staring at screens after we get home from work!

Take a moment to think about what that must do to our eyes–eyes that evolved to scan great distances across the savannah in search of prey; eyes that developed through peering across the grassland looking out for predators. Gazing blankly into the glowing blue light of our various screens takes a toll. It must.

And while there are plenty of scare articles out there with tips for easing back strain, dealing with carpal tunnel from endless keyboard time, and getting more exercise to combat the sedentary nature of our modern lifestyle, one physical problem that is rarely addressed that goes along with life at the dawn of the cyber era is eye strain.

Think about how serious this problem could prove to be in the long run if it is not addressed: with as much time as we spend with our eyes glued to various screens–when was the last time you went, say, an hour without looking at your phone?–our eyes are a vital cog in the system.

That’s not to take anything away from people who have lost their sight; the opposite in fact. It’s hard to imagine dealing with such a huge obstacle. Which should make those of us who still possess our sight even more determined to keep what we have.

To that end, here are a few tips for how to combat the dangers of digital eye strain.

  • Get your eyes checked – This is a vital first step in protecting the most valuable sense for a person who works with computers. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, anyone who spends any time at all with computers should have an annual eye exam, come hell or high water. You should also make sure the computer monitor is at the correct distance–about an arm’s length away–to ensure that you’re not unnecessarily straining your eyes.
  • Use the 20-20-20 Rule – Simple: every 20 minutes look away from the screen for 20 seconds at something that is at least 20 feet away. Think of it as exercising your eyes, stretching them as you would stretch your legs before and during a big run.
  • Boost your text size – This is so simple that we often overlook it, or we are just so accustomed to working with a certain font size or zoom percentage that we never think to adjust it, even when we are straining to see what’s on the screen. Drop you pride, change your zoom.
  • Make sure you have proper lighting – Excessively bright light is a huge culprit when it comes to digital eye strain. Outdoor sunlight through the window, or harsh, unforgiving indoor lighting can cause tremendous excess eye strain. Use lower intensity bulbs if you can, or close the curtains or blinds to prevent excess sunlight from interfering with how you view your computer.

Keep in mind something else about lighting too: the blue light that computers and smart phones emit seriously messes with your eyes, your brain and your ability to sleep. There is a great free program called flux that automatically adjusts your screen settings to take out the harsh blue light that looks fine during the day but subconsciously scratches at your brain at night.

  • Upgrade your display – If you’re still using an old-school CRT monitor, first of all congratulations on your frugality–or that of your boss. But maybe explain to him or her that while saving money is a worthy cause, so are the eyes of employees who are expected to stare at computer screens all day. LCD screens–the flat screens that come with laptops–are much easier on your eyes. CRT screens have a distinct flicker, that, while often imperceptible, can nevertheless cause digital eye strain and fatigue.
  • Get computer glasses – While the first three items on this list are pretty standard fare, specialty computer eyewear is a fairly new category that is not often well understood, so we should devote some space to sussing this out. Computer glasses may be a relatively new addition to the list of  computer accessories people use regularly, but along with gel keyboard wrist supports and a scroll-wheel equipped mouse, computer eyewear is an innovation that just makes sense.

Consider a few things: your computer screen should optimally be placed about 20-26 inches away from you, about an arm’s length, which puts it right in between the two types of viewing–the ones that those of us who wear prescription glasses know about. If you are near-sighted you have a hard time seeing things far away, like when you are driving or watching a movie; if you are far-sighted, you have a hard time reading things up close.

With computer screens falling right smack dab in the middle distance when correctly placed, they present a unique problem for our eyes, and that goes for everyone, even those lucky folks with perfect vision. The problem is so prevalent that there is name for it: computer vision syndrome–and you know something is widespread when it has a syndrome named for it.

From category: Buyer's Guide

It just makes sense: if you have trouble reading, you get reading glasses. Simple. If you can’t read the street signs when you’re driving at night, you get prescription glasses.

With as much time as we spend staring at screens that are inconveniently located halfway between these two distances–indeed, surveys show that 31 percent of people over 18 spend a minimum of 5 hours a day on their computer–it is simple logic that we would want to have lenses that focus our eyes properly. Indeed, if you’re one of those lucky workers who has a frugal boss, consider telling them that studies show that computer glasses significantly improve worker productivity.

There are some great computer eyewear models out there too, as word of this innovative yet commonsense product takes hold.

A great place to start is of course Amazon, but if you are looking for computer eyewear that has a bit more style, you might try Gunnar. It’s a cutting edge online shop that has specialty eyewear in prescriptions, gaming-specific models, computer-user models, and sunglasses, all in very sharp and modern styles. The best thing about them is they are not pricey at all, even considering the specialty nature of their product. Here are a few from them, and a few promising models from Amazon:

  • Gunnar Intercept – This bold, smoke-colored frame has the classic look of a Clark Kent that also would not look out of place in the hippest artisanal cheese shop in Brooklyn. Available in prescription or not, the blue-light blocking lenses of the Intercept have helped users who work with computers, gamers, and even people who just watch TV at night and suffer digital eye strain as a result. This is a model that has all the heft and solidity of prescription glasses you might buy in a shop, plus the gravitas and style that will allow you to wear them anywhere you might find yourself looking at a screen.
  • Gamma Ray Flexlite – Found on Amazon, this budget frame is the polar opposite of the Intercept. This frame is so minimalist it is nearly non-existent. The mere suggestion of a frame, slim wire earpieces in stainless steel, these glasses nonetheless will protect your eyes from harmful blue light and allow you to work or game for hours longer without reaching for the eye drops or getting a headache.
  • Gunnar Regent – For a look that is more elegant, more executive, one that has a bit more heft to it, try the Gunnar Regent. Also with the blue light blocking tech that is part and parcel of all of Gunnar’s products, the Regent adopts a more slim, minimal approach but with an understated yet imperial feel. The lightweight gunmetal frames house lenses that are crafted with a subtle curve that allows for a wider field of vision than one finds in most glasses, all in a comfortable package that you will forget is on your face in no time at all.
  • Spektrum Computer Glasses – This manufacturer found on Amazon makes computer glasses that come in, as one reviewer put it, “…a standard hipster look that most people can pull off, ironically or otherwise.” But the same reviewer went on to point out that he or she had been wearing them that entire evening, and that the headaches and dry eyes had disappeared.

The bottom line is that really we have no idea what long-term changes might result from the changed lifestyles we lead, lifestyles that have most of us firmly planted in front of a screen of one kind or another for most of our waking hours.

Back when cigarettes first grew in popularity, the results of the surge were to remain unknown until that generation grew much older, decades even.

Imagine what the world might look like in 40 years when this generation of computer users is retiring–or, conversely, if it might not look like anything at all, due to our eyes being all burned out.

The key is to do whatever you can to start protecting yourself now, even if we don’t know what the long view looks like from here.

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