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Avoiding Digital Eye Strain Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

29 June 2016

Your most important gear as a photographer are your eyes. Fortunately, you don't have to brush and floss them every day. Or even wash them. They take care of themselves for the most part. But there are a few things you can do to help.

Have a Seat. A display at the local optician's shop.

And help is just what they need being glued to a screen all day.

About nine in 10 adults spend over two hours each day looking at a digital device -- and one of them spends at least three-fourths of their waking hours on it. Some 65 percent of us report dry, irritated, eyes, blurred vision, eye fatigue, neck and back pain and headaches.

Digital eye strain, for lack of a better word.

Our health care provider recently published an article on avoiding digital eye strain and we thought we'd pass along the four suggestions with a few notes of our own. You know, as a public service.


You're probably aware an exam will determine any corrective lens prescription you may need. The prescription your eye doctor writes out is valid for just two years, though. So that's about as long as you should go between visits.

An eye exam also checks for problems you may not have noticed like glaucoma, macular degeneration, hypertension and diabetes. Those can seriously affect your vision if left untreated. Early diagnosis won't always avoid the consequences but it gives you the best chance to minimize them.

An exam can also determine whether it's time for cataract surgery (which itself can change your life). Not everybody makes it to Medicare before requiring cataract surgery. A simple exam can tell you where you stand.


You may not think about it very much but how often do you blink? Turns out, it varies.

In the usual hustle and bustle, people tend to blink 20 times a minute.

But when viewing a monitor or phone screen, you only blink four or five times a minute.

You can test this declining rate yourself by setting up your smartphone to monitor you. Just take a video of yourself surfing the Web and another gazing out the window, say. And compare blink rates.

To reduce eye strain at the keyboard, blink more.

Which we find easy to do by just remembering how beautiful the world is -- and how sad. It always tears us up.

THE 20-20-20 RULE

One problem with working at a screen of any kind is the distance doesn't change. You're constantly focusing your eyes a foot or so away for phones and monitors, further for TVs.

To combat that, follow the 20-20-20 rule. After looking at a screen for 20 minutes, look beyond it about 20 feet for 20 seconds.

Some 65 percent of us report dry, irritated, eyes, blurred vision, eye fatigue, neck and back pain and headaches.

One simple way to set this up is to put a wall clock up about 20 feet beyond your screen. You'll look up at it at least three times an hour, guaranteed. And even more often after 4 p.m.


For photographers, much of the discussion about a computer-based working environment centers on wall color (neutral) and light level (dim). All of which helps avoid digital eye strain.

For ordinary office work, the big problems are ergonomics and glare. Your monitor should be about an arm's length away from you and the top of the monitor should be about eye level. You should have an adjustable chair to make that happen.

Overhead lighting tends to maximize glare, particularly on certain surfaces. You may want to investigate anti-reflective lenses to cut down on glare. Tinted lenses can also help.

Anti-reflective lenses decrease reflection from those overhead flourescents, improving acuity and contrast. They can be combined with blue light-blocking filtering to selectively absorb harmful blue light, keeping it from entering through the cornea and reaching the back of the eye. These lenses are either infused with melanin or made to filter a specific range of blue light.


As Michael Johnston points out in The Eye Doctor and Soft Filters, "When the eye doctor gives you a prescription for glasses, the one parameter they don't give you is PD or pupillary distance -- the distance between the centers of your pupils."

This may matter to you because without that measurement, you can't order glasses online.

At the optician's office, they do measure pupillary distance when you order glasses. But they don't always reveal what it is. Johnston bought some glasses from a local optician and asked for the PD number, which he used to order glasses online.

But you don't need an optician to measure your PD. All you need is a mirror and a ruler, as a number of reputable online sources point out. We refer you to them. And some online sites have their own technique, requiring you to take a selfie with a credit card held up close to your eyes. The credit card is used as a measuring device.

We don't have a horse in this race. We've suffered some terrible opticians and been blessed with some real heroes. Online opticians weren't around when we last bought glasses (our eyesight has actually improved to the point we don't need them).


If you'd like more information on dealing with digital eye strain, we recommend the 2016 Digital Eye Strain Report from the Vision Council.

Just because your eyes don't require daily care doesn't mean you can forget about them. You should monitor them for debilitating issues and protect them from strain to enjoy the best vision possible.

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