If you spend two or more hours a day in front of a computer, you might suffer from computer vision syndrome (CVS). Symptoms include headache, inability to focus, burning or tired eyes, double or blurred vision, and neck and shoulder pain.

Computer screens are the culprit. Our eyes don’t process screen characters as well as they do traditional print. Printed materials have well-defined edges and screen characters don’t. Our eyes work hard to remain focused on screen characters and to temporarily relieve stress, our eyes drift and then strain to refocus. The constant muscle flexing causes fatigue. Keep in mind that computer screens aren’t the only screens that matter — most of your electronic toys, such as cell phones and PDAs, also cause eyestrain.

1.Use proper lighting
Most office settings use bright, often harsh lighting. The more light the better, right? Unfortunately, that’s not true, but the solution to harsh bright lights is simple. Knowing that the bright lights are hurting you is often the bigger problem.

If you have a window, use blinds or curtains to limit the amount of sunlight beaming in. Use lower intensity bulbs and tubes inside. If you have both, turn off the indoor lights and open your blinds or curtains until you’re comfortable.

If you’re used to working in bright light, you might feel a bit out of sorts at first. Give yourself some time to adjust to the softer lighting. If you can’t control the lighting, consider wearing tinted glasses.

2. Reduce environmental glare
Glare is reflected light that bounces off surfaces such as walls and computer screens. Often, you don’t even realize you’re compensating for it, so finding glare might take a bit of effort. There are a few things that you can do to reduce the glare:
a. Paint bright walls a darker color and use paint with a matte finish
b. Install an anti-glare screen and/or a glare hood on your monitor
c. If you wear glasses, consider applying an anti-reflective coating to the lenses.

Glare screens help only part of the problem. They cut down on glare from the computer screen. Unfortunately, they won’t help your eyes focus better.

3.Use proper computer settings
One of the simplest ways to reduce eyestrain is to adjust your monitor’s brightness and contrast settings. There’s no right or wrong setting. Just experiment until you’re comfortable.

If the background gives off a lot of light, reduce the brightness. In addition, keep the contrast between the background and characters high. Generally speaking, your settings are probably too bright, but a setting that’s too dark is just as tiring.

4. Maximize comfort by adjusting text size and color
Adjusting the on-screen text’s size and color can provide relief. First, try enlarging the text. You’re probably using the smallest size you can to view more text on the screen, but that compounds the problem. Instead, enlarge the text to two to three times the smallest size you can read.

Almost all software and most browsers will let you adjust text size. When possible, use black text on a white background. And avoid busy backgrounds. Sometimes, you have no control, but do so when you can.

5. Take a break
If you work at a computer most of the day, work in a few breaks. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that computer workers take, at a minimum, four 5-minute breaks in addition to the customary two 15-minute breaks during the day. If you don’t take those two 15-minute breaks, take a five-minute break for every hour you sit at the computer. The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends a 15-minute break for every two hours of computer use.

6. Clean your screen
The easiest tip of all is to clean your screen frequently. Dust, fingerprints, and other smears are distracting and make reading more difficult. Often, you don’t even see the dust; you just look right past it. Make it a habit to wipe off your screen frequently. Every morning isn’t too often and is easy to work into your routine.

7. Position copy correctly
Glancing back and forth between a printed copy and your computer screen causes eyestrain. To ease discomfort, place the printed copy as close to your monitor as possible, in addition, use a copy stand if possible to keep the copy upright.
This is the one time you might want more light. A small desk lamp will suit your needs, but position it carefully so that it sheds light on the printed page but doesn’t shine into your face or reflect off your monitor. Remember to use soft light.

8. Position yourself correctly
Keep your distance from the monitor; most people sit too close. Position your computer monitor about 20 to 24 inches from your eyes. Your screen’s center should be about 10 to 15 degrees below your eyes. This arrangement provides the best support.

If you can’t change the distance between you and the monitor, adjust the text accordingly. For instance, if you’re sitting farther away than you should, increase the text size. It’s not the best solution, but it’s better than straining to see something that’s too far away.

9. Get computer glasses
If you just can’t get relief, you might need special glasses you can wear just for working at the computer. You can’t pick these at your favorite discount store. You’ll need a prescription from an eye doctor.

Don’t depend on prescription reading glasses to negate CVS either. Reading glasses help with distances of 16 to 21 inches. In contrast, computer glasses work for distances of 18 to 28 inches. It’s unlikely that the same pair of glasses will accommodate reading printed material and working at your computer.

For more information, visit Lighthouse International.

Dr. Bruce P. Rosenthal is Chief of Low Vision Programs at Lighthouse International. He is a Diplomat in Low Vision, an adjunct professor at Mount Sinai Hospital and distinguished adjunct professor at the State University of New York College of Optometry. Dr. Rosenthal is the former Chair of the AMD Alliance International and its Scientific Advisory Board, as well as being Chair of the American Academy of Optometry and the American Optometric Association Low Vision sections. He has also written seven books, including “Living Well with Macular Degeneration.”