There’s a statistically decent chance that you’re actually reading this from an office. At the moment, office jobs are pretty standard for US employees, but here’s the thing: your job might not be the best fit for your visual health. When many of us go to work in the morning, we’re cubicle-bound and once we’re there, we’ll largely spend the next eight hours on the computer.
Believe it or not, that’s terrible for your eyes. The average office was not made with vision in mind and that’s starting to show in the form of a sweeping epidemic of work-related visual problems among office workers.
These issues are so common that they’ve even received a name: Computer Vision Syndrome. CVS develops from a combination of a sedentary, chair-bound work day and a massive amount of near-field work performed on a digital screen. Will it affect you? If we listen to the National Institute of Health, then the answer’s probably yes. The government organization estimates that 90 percent of workers who spend three hours or more working on a computer will experience at least some symptoms of CVS. Which raises the question…
What is CVS?
CVS is a collection of various symptoms and disorders, all of which are caused by extended work with a digital screen. Dry eye is the most commonly seen. Computer users tend to blink infrequently and the angle that many view their screens at does them few favors. Compare the downward gaze used for reading a book to the straight-ahead one that most people adopt for computer use. The latter exposes a large amount of surface area on the eyes and greatly contributes to rapid drying.
Asthenopia, or eye strain, is also enormously common. Whenever you stare at a computer screen, you’re forcing tiny muscles in your eyes to focus in on an extremely close object. Do so for too long without a break and they’ll fatigue, leaving you with painful, tired eyes.
Put those two together, throw in a couple more uncommon symptoms such as headache and nausea, and CVS becomes a painful, nagging workplace nuisance. It’s unpleasant enough to take a major bite out of the average worker’s productivity. Multiplied by the millions of computer workers across the US and you’ll find what some researchers believe to be a $2 billion monetary loss from CVS-claimed time.
CVS in the Office
So CVS is to be taken seriously, but so far we’ve just talked about why digital screens are bad for your eyes in general. Let’s get into why offices in particular can be such deathtraps for unprepared eyes. Most of the factors we’ll talk about here are environmental and luckily, many of them can be changed, so watch out for them and do your best to address them if they crop up.
Heating and cooling systems can both exacerbate a case of CVS by drying eyes. Workers near outflow vents for either one of these will experience a greater volume of air moving past their eyes, speeding evaporation and making life much, much more uncomfortable. If this the case, moving desks (when possible) is a quick way to give your eyes at least a little relief.
Lighting is also an important factor in keeping your eyes comfortable while at the office. Many corporate lighting systems are actually much too bright, having been designed for workers largely reliant on paper instead of on backlit monitors. When dealing with computers, this extra lighting doesn’t add to workers’ abilities to see their screens and instead throws glare into the CVS mix. Excess light bouncing off a screen can not only encourage a case of eyestrain, but it can also nudge you into uncomfortable repositioning to avoid it. When this happens, the likelihood of encountering a musculoskeletal injury, such as sore back or neck muscles, jumps.
Ergonomics are also important for anyone trying to avoid CVS. Monitor positioning is particularly crucial. Keeping your monitor too close to your face is essentially begging for asthenopia. To avoid this, scootch your monitor back – one rule of thumb is to keep it at least arm’s length away. Also take care not to set your monitor up too high. Ideally, the top of the screen should be at eye level. Any higher and you risk both neck problems and quickly drying eyes.
Finally, workplace culture can bump CVS rates. Breaks, believe it or not, are among the most important tools for fighting Computer Vision Syndrome. Backing away from your computer momentarily gives your eyes time to rest and lubricate, giving you an edge on the two most prevalent symptoms of CVS. Companies that encourage unbroken labor – either by being highly driven or highly tyrannical – are CVS enablers.
Even if you do work for a business that requires nose to grindstone days, we still recommend taking short breaks at your desk.
Try the 10-10-10 Rule – every 10 minutes, stare at an object at least 10 feet away for at least 10 seconds. It’s a simple eye exercise that can cut down on your risks of eye strain.
Bigger Vision Problems
Sedentary office work has another, more insidious effect on vision. As many sources have now proven, sitting for too long is far from good for us. Blood pressure and obesity rates both rise the longer we stay in our chairs and both are very bad for eyes. Blood pressure in particular has been shown to directly damage retinas and lower overall visual acuity.
If you find yourself chairbound, make extra efforts to get up and move. Work your eyes and your body, it’s the best way for both to stay healthy.