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In Focus: How Lawyers Can Reduce Eye Strain

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By William Peacock, Esq. on November 12, 2014 8:08 AM

You know what was vastly underrated? The Smith-Corona typewriter. Typewriters didn't distract you with celebrity gossip. They didn't have email alerts popping up in the corner of your screen, ready to interrupt your work every few minutes. And eye fatigue? Not so much, not when you're not staring at an artificially lit computer screen for 8 to 10 hours straight.

Sadly, the typewriter is no more. Research, brief writing, and even filing is done using these damned computers and the "information superhighway." According to the 2014 Digital Eye Strain Report, Americans on average are now spending nine hours per day in front of a digital screen. Nearly 70 percent of adults report eye strain, more so among younger adults (18 to 34) than older adults with presumably higher rates of actual eye issues.

What can you do to relieve the pain? Here are a few tips:

1. Get Your Eyes Checked.

This one worked for my headache-plagued co-worker, whose prescription had changed. It also worked for my older brother, who is discovering the perils of aging while going back to school.

Eyes change as you get older. Whether or not you currently have glasses or contacts, your prescription may have changed since your last checkup. And if not, your eye care professional may be able to prescribe computer glasses, which are way better for eye strain than contacts. The simplest answer is usually the best: See your eye doc.

2. Push Pixels With a New Monitor.

Some of the latest pixel-pushing in mobile devices is overkill: A 4k Ultra HD display may be a wee bit of overkill on a 6-inch phone screen (or it may not, says CNET). Still, more pixels does mean smoother text (and less tired eyes), which is why "Retina" iPhones and iPads look way better to you than the older models. Apple's "Retina" designation means 326 pixels per inch, a density where someone with 20/20 can no longer see individual pixels.

The same principle applies to your computer monitor. In fact, the bigger the screen, the easier it is to notice a lower-quality or lower-resolution display. As something that you're going to be staring for 40 or more hours per week, a monitor is something that you should seriously consider investing in. We'd say 1080p is the bare minimum -- the more pixels, however, the better.

3. Take More Breaks.

What do you do when you take a break at work? Check sports scores? Facebook? Twitter? As more things move online, and more things online compete for our attention, we're taking fewer and fewer offline breaks. And what do we do when we leave our desks? Pick up our smartphones.

Pledge to take more offline breaks during the day. Get coffee, chat up a coworker, and eat lunch away from your desk. Not only will it refresh your attention span, and possibly boost your productivity, but it'll help your eyes take a break from fixating on a screen that is barely a foot away.

4. 20/20/20 Exercises.

This one was on a Post-It note that was left behind in my cubicle when I got here: Every 20 minutes, fix your gaze on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

All About Vision suggests that exercise, or an alternative in which you look far away for 10 seconds, look close for 10 seconds, and go back-and-forth 10 times. Both combat "accommodative spasm," a condition where your eyes "lock up" after being focused on a fixed distance for too long.

5. Rearrange Your Office.

It's all about the OSHA ergonomics. Are the centers of your monitors 10 to 15 degrees below your line of sight and 20 to 24 inches away from your eyes?

AAV also mentions office lighting -- harsh lighting from outside or overhead fluorescent lights can aggravate eye fatigue as well. It suggests that you have your monitors to the side of lighting, rather than having a bright window in front of or behind you while you work. Ditch the overhead lights for floor lamps too, if possible.

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