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How to Prevent Screen Headaches

Whether for work or play, screens are a huge part of daily life. When you’re at the office, you can spend most of your day looking at screen. If you work from home, you might find that your screen time is even higher—it’s hard to remember to take breaks when you’re on your own. Some days you may go straight from your smartphone in the morning, to your work computer during the day, and finally to tablets and TV at night. Sure, these devices make our lives easier, but all of that screen time can lead to eyestrain (1, 2) — and even screen headaches. (1, 2, 3)

In fact, according to one study review, anywhere from 64% to 90% of computer users studied reported some kind of symptoms, including eyestrain, dry eye, and screen headaches. (1) And eyestrain itself can be a migraine trigger for some, so computer screen headaches may be even more common.

Additionally, the American Optometric Association defines Computer Vision Syndrome (also known as Digital Eye Strain) as a group of vision-related issues that come from long-term use of devices. (3) Common symptoms of CVS include eyestrain, blurred vision, neck and shoulder pain and headaches. (3)

So should you do the unthinkable to avoid Computer Vision Syndrome and the computer screen headaches it could cause—give up your screens? Before you go on a complete screen shutdown, check out these three tips for giving your eyes—and hopefully your head—some time off.

Take a break. Giving your eyes a break from your computer screen can help prevent eye strain and might even improve work efficiency.(2) One rule of thumb is the 20/20/20 rule – every 20 minutes or so, look into the distance (about 20 feet) for 20 seconds.(2) This can help prevent work headaches during busy days, including if you’re working from home. You can use the 20 seconds to do a stretch, grab another cup of copy or simply take a few deep breaths. You can return to your screen refreshed, revived and ready to work afterwards.

Get the lighting right. Glare and reflections on your computer screen, a universal issue for almost all monitors, can cause eyestrain (2). A simple solution is to darken the room, either by closing the blinds, or using dimmer switches or low-intensity light bulbs, so your screen has less to reflect. (2) Of course, you might not have control over these things (and your co-workers might not be willing to work in a cave-like environment), so another option is to consider an anti-glare cover. (2)

Print It Out. Small screens mean small text sizes, necessitating a closer position to your screen than you would have for printed materials.(1) We’re looking at you smartphones and tablets. This close working distance can create more of a demand on your eyes(1), possibly leading to Computer Vision Syndrome and its symptoms (eyestrain and possibly headaches). (3) So if you’ve got a lengthy document, consider printing a hard copy instead of saving it to your smartphone if you’re bringing work home. If you telework regularly, consider investing in an extra computer monitor. The larger screen may help make your documents easier to read.

Still feeling the strain — and getting headaches from screen time? See a doctor if self-care steps don't relieve your screen headaches. And if you’ve gotten a new pair of glasses lately, don’t miss this article about the connection between your specs and your headaches.

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1. Rosenfield M. Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt 2011, 31, 502–515. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-1313.2011.00834
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1475-1313.2011.00834.x/abstract

2. J. Tribleya, S. McClaina, A. Karbasia and J. Kaldenberg. Tips for computer vision syndrome relief and prevention. Work, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 85-87, 2011.
http://content.iospress.com/articles/work/wor01183

3. “Computer Vision Syndrome.” American Optometric Association. Last accessed October 30, 2015.
http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/protecting-your-vision/computer-vision-syndrome?sso=y

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