How to Protect Your Eyes If You're Staring at Screens All Day

Being stuck at home means spending a lot of extra time on screens. When you're binging the latest Netflix series, completing online classes, working from home, checking the news, and scrolling through social media, your eyes are trained on screens throughout huge portions of each day. It’s important to take good care of your eyes during this time—especially since this stay-at-home thing might last longer than we all expected.

When you spend a lot of time looking at your phone or computer, you might notice irritation happening to your eyes. High amounts of screen time can cause blurry vision, dry or itchy eyes, tired eyes, and headaches. Blue light that comes from screens can really mess with your sleep cycle, so limiting screen time at night matters, too. The biggest problem accompanying screen time for eyes is eye strain, which happens because most of us blink significantly less while looking at screens. This lack of blinking, combined with the fact that you have to focus, can make eyes tired. Basically, be extra cautious to take care of your eyes during this time. Below are a few ways to start. 

Protecting your eyes

Take frequent breaks.

I work remotely and my university is now online for the rest of the semester, so I spend a lot of time working on my laptop. My breaks often involve watching some Netflix or scrolling through Instagram. On days where I spend hours working without taking breaks, my eyes feel terrible. TBH, the other day my eyelid was even twitching a little after I spent all day on the computer. I’m focusing on adding breaks in wherever I can, and being purposeful about looking away from the screen. Experts recommend a 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds—this is a super easy way to give your eyes a break that doesn’t take a lot of time.

Stepping away from your computer is key for keeping your eyes in their best shape during the day. Get outside for a quick walk, or just head to the kitchen and have a snack—without your phone in hand. You’ll come back refreshed and with your eyes feeling relieved. Breaks also do wonders for your mental health during social distancing.

Adjust your screen brightness to match the environment.

No matter where you’re working, computers tend to be brighter than the surrounding light. Your eyes have to work harder to see and process visuals, so adjust your screens to match your visual environment whenever you can. On that note, you should also keep your screen about an arm’s length from your eyes—it’s harder for eyes to focus up-close.

Limit screen time before bed.

This tip is one that I personally struggle to actually implement, but I’m working on it. If you can stop using screens one or two hours before bed, you’ll sleep better and experience less eye strain. Especially since we all are on our phones throughout the day, you can use that time at night to do other things (especially activities that support your mental wellbeing and help you relax), like reading a book, writing in a journal, talking with someone you love, or taking a bubble bath. If you are going to be on your phone before bed, remember the screen brightness versus room brightness discussion, and try switching your phone over to a nighttime mode. On iPhones, you can also turn on the adaptive screen that automatically adjusts to the environment's lighting.

Take out your contacts.

If you’re like me, you’re guilty of putting your contacts in as soon as you wake up and not taking them out until you’re just about sleeping at night. When you’re experiencing eye strain from being on screens more frequently, a good strategy is to take your contacts out and give your eyes a break and some fresh air. Switch over to your glasses for a little while and let your eyes rest.

Related: 7 Best Practices for Working from Home 

What if my eyes are *already* strained?

If your eyes are already feeling strained from being on the computer all day, that’s okay. Usually, eye strain goes away pretty quickly and doesn’t permanently damage your eyes (thankfully), but it can be pretty unpleasant to have your eyes be itchy, dry, and sore. Here are some quick tips for ways to relieve those issues and get your eyes feeling good again.

Use a cold washcloth or soft ice pack.

As someone who struggles with migraines and definitely gets headaches from looking at my computer, this is the most soothing practice. Putting cold water on a washcloth and holding it against your eyes feels amazing. If you have one of those soft gel ice packs, those work even better—just be sure to wrap in a towel to keep the pack from resting directly on your skin.

Don’t get on your phone.

If your eyes are strained from working on the computer, and you log off only to get on your phone and scroll through Twitter and Snapchat, you’re going to make things way worse. Just give your eyes a break from up-close screens for a little while—it’s so restorative.

Use eye drops if you need them.

If your eyes are bloodshot and feeling dry, you can use eye drops or artificial tears to help get things back to normal. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends keeping artificial tears on hand by your desk in case you need them. You can also run a humidifier in the room if your eyes are feeling dry.

Take care of seasonal allergies, too.

This whole period of being at home is happening right as seasonal allergies are starting to bother people all over the U.S. Your eyes could already be irritated due to seasonal allergies, so make sure that if your allergies are kicking in, you’re doing the things you need to do to prevent issues down the road. 

Hopefully, these tips help you to keep your eyes feeling good during this time of working and doing school from home. As we spend more time on screens, you have to be mindful of physical and mental health, and your eyes tend to get overlooked. As long as you take breaks and take care of your eyes once they do feel strained, you should be in good shape.