Preventing Eye Strain During Covid

In the wake of COVID-19, many people, including students at the IAA,  have found themselves spending more time in front of a screen. Amidst the many adjustments made to accommodate remote work, one that might be underappreciated is eye strain. This post aims to briefly describe eye strain and offer some suggestions to prevent it.

What is it?

In 2019 the journal of Clinical and Experimental Optometry defined eye strain as “a condition characterized by visual disturbance and/or ocular discomfort related to the use of digital devices and resulting from a range of stresses on the ocular environment.” In general, if your eyes hurt from looking at something too long, you have eye strain. It is also important to remember that eye strain is a symptom and not a disease. 

What are some common causes of eye strain?

People can experience eye strain from many sources; some common causes are listed below.

Small print

If you find yourself squinting to read your code, or leaning in to see your Zoom meeting better, you likely need to increase the font size. Links to increase font size in R, SAS, and Jupyter Notebooks are found here. Also, consider pulling your chair closer to your desk or moving your monitor closer to you. 

Bright lights

Many programs regularly used at the Institute default to bright white backgrounds (imagine the backgrounds to the Google Suite, R Studio, SQLLite, SAS, MS Word, etc.). Additionally, if you work in front of a window, you may be exposed to direct light throughout the day. 

Pulsing or flashing lights

Many items in the home workspace have built-in lights. Think of blinking lights on monitors, external hard drives, chargers, etc. Also, some older monitors flash or crackle. If you have a poor internet connection, your Zoom meetings may shake or pulse. 

Dim lighting

Some students have to work in basements or side rooms to keep the necessary privacy for their work. Other students may have adequate lighting throughout the day but lose good lighting at night. 

Other common Causes

  • Working too long without breaks
  • General fatigue
  • Dry eyes

What can I do to prevent it?

Fortunately, there are ways to help prevent eye strain. Here are some suggestions:

Get plenty of sleep

Rested eyes can do wonders for eye strain. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule. Another useful tip is to avoid using your phone in bed to wind down. Those extra screen time minutes start to add up over the course of the program. 

Stay hydrated

Among other benefits staying hydrated will help you in several ways. Adequate hydration will keep your body and eyes functioning. Additionally, if you drink plenty of water, you will force yourself to take breaks to use the restroom periodically. Pro tip: keep a water bottle at your desk; cups tend to fall over.

Break up the workday to reduce prolonged exposure

If you made it into the Institute, you have shown that you are a driven and committed person. That being said, there is no reason to ‘soldier on’ through the entire day without taking a break. Step away from the computer to grab a quick lunch. Go for a  short walk between classes. Join one of the socially distanced get-togethers coordinated by other students. Whatever you do, find time to give your eyes a break.

Make sure your work area is well lit

Getting a lamp or finding a room with central lighting can be useful when working after dark. Try to avoid a bright screen in an otherwise dark environment. 

Other suggestions:

  • Use blue light blocking glasses
  • Switch to dark mode while using your computer apps
  • Download a free eye strain preventing app

However you decide to deal with the new normal, be sure to take time for your eyes.

Columnist: Tanner Muhlestein