Computer Screen Glare and Health: Combatting Vision Damage
Computers and information technology may have improved modern life, however, spending large amounts of time staring at digital screens all day brings on its own specific health problems. Associated health problems include backache, neck ache and upper limb problems, but most significantly, screen glare can also include a number of vision problems, collectively known as computer vision syndrome (or digital eye strain). To understand exactly how to protect your eyes from vision damage caused by screen glare, we’ve put together this helpful article.
What is screen glare?
Screen glare is not just caused by the brightness of the screen itself, but also reflections on the screen from indoor lights (including overhead fluorescent lamps) and sunlight coming through windows. All of these factors can contribute to the damage of screen glare upon your eyes. The American Optometric Association defines computer vision syndrome as a complex of eye and vision problems related to activities that put stress on near vision, and which are experienced while using a computer.i The most common symptoms, according to the AOA, include:
These symptoms can be caused by factors such as poor lighting, incorrect posture, sitting too close or too far from your screen, and also – according to one study – screen brightness, quality and glare.ii
What is the impact of screen glare on your eyes?
According to the AOA, screen glare places extra demand on your vision – resulting in eye strain. It’s also thought that, with screen glare, your eyes have to constantly adapt to the difference between dark and bright areas, leading to symptoms such as headaches and migraines. One study even suggests that looking at a computer screen with glare not only affects muscles in the eyes but the neck too. Looking at a computer screen – as opposed to looking into the distance – means the muscles in and around the eyes have to work harder, the study claims. After testing muscle activity and muscle blood flow in healthy young adults, the scientists found that glare exposure resulted in significantly more pronounced eye pain. They also discovered an interaction between the eye muscles and the trapezius muscle – a muscle at the back of your neck, shoulders and between the shoulder blades – claiming exposure to direct glare affects not just the eye muscles but the trapezius muscle too. Elsewhere researchers have looked into the effect of screen glare on eye movements during reading, finding that even moderate glare has a negative effect on concentration and reading performance.iv What’s more, they found that the more glare volunteers with normal vision were exposed to, the slower their reading speeds became.
How to protect your eyes against screen glare
If you regularly use digital screens for long periods at work, it is important that your environment is set up in a way that optimises your eye health. There are a number of measures you can take in order to keep your eyes feeling more comfortable by reducing glare, as well as a few other tips you may find helpful.
Adjust your monitor
Try to arrange your desk and computer screen so that bright reflections are at a minimum. For instance, avoid having your screen facing an unshaded window, as it can cause significant reflected glare on your screen from the window. Similarly, try to avoid facing the window too. Your ideal position should be away from sunlight as much as possible. Some computer monitors allow you to adjust their brightness or colour temperature. The level of brightness to aim for should be comparable with the rest of your surroundings – if the white of this page looks brighter than your room, it’s too bright. Also, try adjusting the colour temperature to make light from your monitor less blue, as this may help with eye strain too.
Use an anti-glare screen
If you’re surrounded by bright, light and shiny surfaces, it may be difficult to control. If this is the case, an anti-glare screen that attaches to your monitor may be useful. Anti-glare screens – which diffuse light and reduce glare – are widely available and could make a big difference to how comfortable your eyes feel. You can also find anti-glare screens for smartphones, which can help if you spend a lot of time texting or checking emails on your phone. Alternatively, if you wear glasses, try using lenses with an anti-reflective coating to cut down on glare in general.
Take a break
Give your eye muscles a rest by looking away from your screen regularly. Try following the 20-20-20 rule, where you take a 20-second break from your screen every 20 minutes and look at something at least 20ft away. This can help the focusing muscles in your eyes relax, which can help relieve eye strain.
Blink more often
Your blink rate can become much lower than normal when you’re using a computer screen, which means you don’t produce enough tear fluid to keep your eyes sufficiently lubricated. If you can, try to train yourself to consciously blink more, especially when you feel your eyes are becoming too dry or uncomfortable, or consider using some over-the-counter eye drops. While this will not prevent glare, it is a good measure to take to maintain the overall health of your eyes.
Nourish your eyes
While there are a number of external factors to protect against screen glare, supporting your eyes from the inside may also help to improve their overall health. Plant compounds called lutein and zeaxanthin have been found to reduce eye strain and headaches in people who spend prolonged periods using computersv. These nutrients can be found in a number of foods like as leafy greens, however, they are also available in the form of a high-quality supplement. For more information, see our guides to foods contain lutein and zeaxanthin, and discover how they can assist with eye health.
Protecting your eyes at any stage is an important step to maintain the health of your eyes as you age. In the meantime, why not explore the rest of our for more information on eye conditions and keeping your vision healthy?
American Optometric Association. Computer Vision Syndrome. (2019). Available online: https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/protecting-your-vision/computer-vision-syndrome
Loh, K.Y., Redd, S.C. Understanding and Preventing Computer Vision Syndrome. Malays Fam Physician. 2008. ;3(3): 128–130. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4170366
Mork, R., Brueneck, J.R., Thoroud, H.M. Effect of Direct Glare on Orbicularis Oculi and Trapezius During Computer Reading. Optom Vis Sci. 2016 Jul. ;93(7):738-49. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27003813
Glimne, S., Brautaset, R.L., Seimyr, G.O., et al. The effect of glare on eye movements when reading. Work. 2015 Jan 1. ;50(2):213-20. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24284692
Stringham, J.M., Stringham, N.T., O’Brieny, K.J. Macular Carotenoid Supplementation Improves Visual Performance, Sleep Quality, and Adverse Physical Symptoms in Those with High Screen Time Exposure. Foods. 2017 Jun 29. ; 6(7). Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28661438
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Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.