The Eyes Have It

By Simone Slykhous

July 6, 2018 5 min read

During World War II, John "Cat's Eyes" Cunningham became a renowned hero in Great Britain for his sharp vision, easily spotting Nazi bombers in the dead of night. What was the secret to his aviation prowess? Carrots, according to the British Ministry of Agriculture, which released swaths of statements and propaganda urging the public to eat the orange root vegetables to enjoy the same vision as Cunningham.

However, this propaganda was hiding the most important secret to Cat's Eyes' success -- the use of radar technology. Wanting to conceal the technological innovation from the Germans, the Royal Air Force pointed to carrot-rich diets rather than plane-mounted radar systems.

Eighty years later, technological innovations fill every nook and cranny of modern workplaces, from replying to emails and reading reports to crafting presentations, analyzing data and surfing the web. The latest available Pew Research shows that 94 percent of jobholders use the internet. And with so much screen time, our eyes are working overtime.

Computer vision syndrome, sometimes called digital eyestrain, has quickly become one of the most common ailments for modern workers. According to Vision Source, a network for private practice optometrists, computer vision syndrome "affects 64 percent to 90 percent of all office workers." And though digital eyestrain doesn't permanently damage eyes, the side effects can be very unpleasant. Symptoms include dry eyes, redness, blurred vision, neck and back pain, strained eyes and headaches. If these are all too familiar, read on for some tips to avoid these nasty effects and what might be causing the eyestrain in the first place.

*20-20-20 Rule

To alleviate computer vision syndrome, follow the 20-20-20 rule. Take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away from you every 20 minutes. Consider downloading an alert on your computer or setting an alarm on your phone to meet the requirements.

*Computer Height and Distance

According to research from the Hadassah Academic College Department of Optometry, the angle at which most computer users are looking at the computer is one of the biggest contributors to dry eyes and eyestrain. As the angle is "considerably more elevated than the angle of gaze in normal reading from a printed page," researchers believe it "exposes more of the cornea to the drying effect of the atmosphere hence more tear film evaporation and degradation." When using a desktop computer, have your gaze reach about four inches above the center of the screen. By not looking straight on at the screen, less eye surface is exposed to the air and your eyes will stay moist longer.

Keep your computer screen about an arm's length away from your face, and hold your tablet or cellphone about 16 inches away for less strain. According to the journal Optometry and Vision Science, people typically hold their smartphones about 7 to 14 inches away from their faces. This is especially true at night, when eyes are already tired. So reconsider scrolling social media in bed with your phone a few inches from your nose.

*Blink

According to Pacific University optometry professor James Sheedy, "Reading demands your attention, so you forget to blink as often." The normal blinking rate of 15 to 20 times per minute drops by half when reading. This is true for reading paper books as well as reading on screens.

*Screen Sheen

Higher-resolution displays produce crisp, sharp images, which keep your eyes from having to work harder. So does keeping your monitor bright. A bright screen is less likely to flicker. Cleaning your computer screen often to remove dust will reduce glare. Check the lighting around you, too. Is the overhead lighting causing a glare? Would closing the blinds reduce the shadows?

*Stay in Contact

Do you wear contacts? Contacts often lead to dry eye syndrome, which can compound the effects of computer vision syndrome. If dry eye is common for you, ask your optometrist for contact and eye drop recommendations to prevent eye dehydration and lock in moisture. And be mindful of how you're caring for your contacts. Remember to remove your contacts before sleeping -- naps, too! -- with freshly washed hands. And use fresh saline solution to store your contacts to reduce bacterial growth.

*Carrots Are Key

Even though eating carrots won't give you radar-like night vision, according to a 2011 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegetarians were 30 percent less likely to develop cataracts than people who consumed daily about 3.5 ounces of meat. Ensuring your diet is full of vitamins A, C and E will support your overall eye health.

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