As a writer, I spend a lot of time looking at a screen. Whether I’m working, texting, watching TV or using my ereader, I’m spending a pretty big portion of my day using a digital device.

Recently, I started having trouble focusing my eyes when I looked up from my computer — I initially chalked it up to being tired, since it happened more frequently at the end of the day or when I hadn’t slept well. But when I noticed it on vacation (I wasn’t tired, but was reading a lot), I realized it probably had more to do with how I was using my eyes than how rested I was.

So off I went to see my optometrist, Dr. Lareina Yeung. She told me I have Computer Vision Syndrome (yes, this is actually a thing). Also referred to as digital eye strain, it can cause dry eyes, blurred vision, headaches and other problems – like my focusing issue.

“People are more likely to have problems as they get older,” says Dr. Yeung, who is a past Vice-President of the Ontario Association of Optometrists. “The lens hardens, making it harder to shift between close up and far away. There are other factors as well; when you’re on a screen, you blink less, so your eyes dry out. Stress and fatigue play a part, and so do contact lenses, which tend to dry your eyes even more.”

Preventing Computer Vision Syndrome

Luckily, the doctor gave me some tips for fixing the problem. In addition to adjusting my prescription to make reading small print less of an effort, she recommended the following strategies:

Follow the 20:20:20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. “This is one of the most important things you can do,” says Maarika Arget, Manulife National Health Promotion and Wellness Consultant. “It gives your eyes a break and can help prevent strain.”

Blink more. Make a conscious effort to blink when you work so your eyes don’t dry out.

Exercise your eyes. Hold a pen 20 cm away from your eyes. Focus on the tip, then shift your focus to a point far away, then back on the pen. Do this 10 times, then bring the pen a bit closer and repeat.

Take breaks. Close your eyes for 20 seconds and just breathe. (Not only is it good for your eyes, it brings down your stress levels, too.) Check out “Daydreams,” a fun ad campaign from the Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) that encourages people to rest their eyes at work.

Try lubricating eye drops. Using them a few times a day is an easy way to combat dryness. They’re particularly good for contact lens wearers, but everyone can benefit from a little extra moisture. Remember that lubricating drops are different from anti-redness drops — according to Dr. Yeung, anti-redness products can actually make things worse; use them too often, and the blood vessels in your eyes won’t know how to constrict on their own.

Reduce glare. Make sure your workspace isn’t too bright – dim the lights and block out bright sunlight. If you wear glasses, ask your doctor for a pair with anti-reflective coating.

Make some adjustments. Play with brightness, text size and contrast to increase readability. If you use an ereader, go with one that isn’t backlit — you can get “old-school” options that mimic the experience of reading on paper.

Get more R&R. Fatigue and stress are big contributors to Computer Vision Syndrome – more downtime and more sleep are key. Read our “sleep tips” post for ideas on how to get a better rest.

Get your eyes checked. Your optometrist can rule out any problems and make sure your prescription is right for computer work.

Using these strategies has made a big difference. In fact, it has been less than I week since my appointment, and I’ve already noticed a pretty big improvement. And now that I’m not having trouble focusing my eyes, focusing on my work is easier too!

The content of this article is provided to you for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health professional to see if these strategies are right for you.

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