Back-to the office eye health guide: Prevent eye strain and headaches

Heading back to your desk after a summer break requires a bit of readjusting. But it shouldn’t have to give you a headache.

Before you slump headlong into your bad office habits, now is a good time to reassess the way you care for your eyes at work to prevent computer vision syndrome (CVS) which is a common cause for workplace headaches.

CVS, or digital eye strain, associated with prolonged computer or digital device use, is an increasingly common workplace problem, and can happen at any age and in any size office environment – from the home micro office to a multi-national workplace.

This year, try to become more aware of changes in your vision and act on the warning signs, such as blurred or distorted vision, eye strain and headaches.

Extended periods of focusing on screens up close results in the eye muscles having to exert a significant focusing effort to make objects clear. As with any of the muscles in the body they can fatigue and tire out if not given the opportunity to rest and relax occasionally.

Here are seven back-to-the-office tips for eye health:

Take regular eye breaks

Take regular breaks using the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away (six metres), for at least 20 seconds. Free programs such as the one from www.protectyourvision.org can assist with reminding you to take a break.

Our visual system was not designed to focus on computer screens all day and your body will also appreciate a regular break every hour – get up and away from your workstation for 5 minutes every hour (take a short walk, make a cuppa or have a chat to a colleague).

Get some distance

How far are you sitting from your computer?

Sit at least an arm’s length from the computer screen, and try not to hold your tablet or smartphone too close to your eyes.

If you wear bifocal or multifocal glasses talk to your optometrist about vision correction options such as computer specific prescriptions and correct ergonomic setup for your workstation as tilting your head too far back to use the reading portion of these lenses can lead to neck problems.

Get the light right

Avoid using screens in an otherwise dark room and set up computer screens so there are no reflections from windows or overhead lighting on the screen.

Working on a computer with the wrong display settings can put some serious strain on your eyes. Adjust the brightness so that it has a similar brightness to your surroundings – if your screen looks like a lightbox, it’s too bright; if it looks dark and grey, it’s too dark.

Remember to blink

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It seems like a no-brainer. But while it’s normal for us to blink about 15 times a minute, studies have shown that we blink far less often while using digital devices resulting in dry, scratchy and red eyes (often exacerbated by air conditioning or heating in offices). Artificial tears or lubricants can assist in mild cases and long term dry eye management is an area your optometrist can assist with.

Pack healthy snacks

A variety of foods contain antioxidants which can help maintain and improve your vision.

Researchers have linked eye-friendly nutrients, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc, to reducing the risk of certain eye conditions. Fresh fruit and veggies, seeds and nuts are on the recommended food list for eye health. You can check the full list here.

Head outdoors whenever you can

Going outdoors where you're able to relax your focussing muscles by looking far away is a great way to give your eyes a break. But when you do, don’t forget to pop on some sunglasses to protect your eyes from damaging UV rays.

Our eyes are 10 times more sensitive to UV than our skin and too much exposure to UV light increases the risk of various eye diseases and cancer, with some 300 Australians diagnosed with eye cancer and conjunctival cancer annually.

However, research shows, while most Australians are doing a good job wearing shades on weekends and holidays, we are less inclined to wear sunglasses during the week.

Invest in a pair of Australian Standard rated sunglasses which complement your work attire and protect your eyes seven days a week. Prescription sunglasses are available in polarised, tinted or variable tint (automatically changes to tinted outside and becomes clear indoors) for those that normally wear clear spectacle lenses.

Book an eye examination

Get out that shiny new 2017 diary and make an appointment to see an optometrist. Common conditions such as myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism or presbyopia can exacerbate eye strain so ensure you have regular eye examinations with your optometrist to maintain good vision, for life.

It's also important to talk to your optometrist about your computer habits so that they can prescribe the correct eyewear for you.

Find an optometrist here.

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