Out vile jelly
November 24, 2012 8:42 AM   Subscribe

I stare at the computer all day for work, and I stare at it at home for recreation and to further my career-change efforts. In the last year or so, though, I've developed intermittent eye strain that makes it almost impossible to do my job or to make any progress on changing careers.

From time to time, looking at the computer for even brief periods (three to four hours) will result in agony for the next several days to a week. I don't have these issues all the time, but when I do it's a problem. For instance, despite using a computer for only about three to four hours a day over the lat several days, this morning my eyes are in misery, which is bad because I'd hoped to get some work done today. I'm looking at the keyboard as I type, because I can hardly bear to look at the screen.

I went to the optometrist last month, explained my problems, got a new pair of glasses with anti-glare lens, with no change in my symptoms. The glasses also have a "prism," to correct a lifelong issue with a lazy eye. It likes to drift when I get tired. Despite the lazy eye, I've never had problems with eye strain like this until the last year or so.

Could it be the fact that, for the last four years or so, I've taken one to two Benadryl every night in order to fall asleep? I know that this is not good, and am trying to break the habit, but have had insomia for my entire life and Benadryl is the only thing that lets me sleep for longer than seven hours. The reason I suspect this drug is because I've read that it dries your whole system out, and I notice my eye problems are worse when I'm tired or haven't gotten enough sleep.

The eye strain comes on only when looking at a computer screen. Reading a book, even on my Kindle (old school), does not have this effect.

Thanks for any advice you have!
posted by indognito to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I went through a similar experience. Went to the eye Dr; he explained that what I'd experienced was common for someone near-sighted at my stage in life (late thirties) and actually *reduced* my contact lense prescription a little bit.

BUT, what's really helped? Workstation ergonomics. My situation (and habits) were causing an enormous amount of strain on the muscles of my shoulders, chest, and neck, causing trigger points in the occipital and sternocleidomastoid muscles to radiate pain into my face, jaw, and eye- socket muscles. One of the worst culprits was my way-too-low keyboard, which caused my shoulders to roll forward, which wreaked havoc everywhere. Raising the keyboard & learning to pull my shoulders back and down has helped a lot with the face and eye pain. Also, mouse placement - if you have to reach laterally or forward even just a few inches to mouse, it can cause undue strain on your shoulder and trapezius.

Also, the placement of your monitor is pretty key. There's a ton of books & online resources for this; or, ask your employer for an ergonomic assessment.

Look into "Upper Cross Syndrome".

Try getting some clinical / "sports" massage. Eye strain causes by muscle tension or imbalances elsewhere is not uncommon to experienced massage practitioners.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 8:59 AM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Here are some instructions that claim to make it possible to use a Kindle DX as a display for a computer, if it turns out to really be the case that the monitor causes eyestrain but the Kindle doesn't. (Though armoir's ergonomics idea sounds like a good one.)
posted by XMLicious at 9:20 AM on November 24, 2012

The nightly Benedryl is probably drying out your eyes. My optometrist suggested flaxseed or fish oil capsules for my dry eyes (I take prescription antihistamines). The flaxseed has helped. (The fish oil brought on fishy burping--yuk.)
posted by Carol Anne at 9:42 AM on November 24, 2012

They make glasses that are designed for people that stare at monitors a lot (beyond just anti-glare). I know Gunnar is one brand that can be made in prescription versions, but I'm sure others exist.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:34 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

My optometrist made a pair of glasses for me just for reading from my monitor. Ask for middle-distance prescription. I explained to my optometrist the distance at which the monitor was placed, the size of the monitor and he took it from there. I have bifocals for every day use, but when I switch to the 'monitor glasses' it's a completely different experience of reading.
posted by seawallrunner at 11:11 AM on November 24, 2012

My brother has the same issues, and from what I remember him saying, taking flaxseed supplements has helped him a lot too. At one point he was wearing swimming goggles to use the computer (I don't think he wears them when anyone is around though) because I guess they trap the moisture in better, and that seemed to help. I'm pretty sure he tried eyedrops, too. From my own personal experience, playing around with lenses prescription helped a lot. The glasses I have now are a little weaker than my old ones and I don't seem to get eyestrain anymore, though mine was never as bad as yours.
posted by big friendly giant at 11:19 AM on November 24, 2012

Maybe it's too bright for you. Turn the R, G and B down really low, to 26 each, and then turn down the brightness and contrast. If you have fluorescent lights you also might want to try a desk lamp.

Also enlarging the fonts.
posted by tel3path at 11:30 AM on November 24, 2012

Talk to your doctor about your insomnia, too.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:42 AM on November 24, 2012

When I'm really concentrating on my screen at work, I forget to blink enough. I have to make myself do extra-long blinks and rest my eyes occasioanally once I've cought myself doing it so I don't get hurty eyes. Try seeing if you can train yourself to blink more - say if you're reading, force a longer blink at the end of every sentence. Also, try the eyedrops that mimic tears - if they help, then you know that dryness is your problem.

For the insomnia, search askme - there are a bunch of other people who have asked about it and gotten great advice. (for example, switching from paper books to audiobooks did amazing things for both my eyes and my sleep habits)
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:18 PM on November 24, 2012

Response by poster: I braved using the computer again to see what the responses were--thanks everyone! I kind of wish my optometrist had mentioned some of the suggestions here before I dropped a few hundred dollars into a new pair of glasses--I may have to contact him to see if there's anything else he can do.

But these are all great suggestions. Will try implementing some if not all. Thanks again!
posted by indognito at 2:07 PM on November 24, 2012

One thing an eye doctor recommended to me: Every half-hour or so, focus on an object that's at least 4 feet further from your face than your monitor is. In order to focus on a plane, your eye muscles contract; if you keep focusing at the same distance, they get strained just like your arm would if you held it at the same height for too long. I keep a few posters in my work area with text on them, at different distances from my desk, and throughout the day I look away from my screen and try to read the text on the posters.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:23 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Long term computer screen junkie here, work followed by EQ/CoX/WoW, etc. My severe nearsightedness was corrected with LASIK over 10 years ago, but my lifestyle undid some of the good. I now wear fairly minor -1.50 lenses for most distance vision and find that -0.50 makes my computer screen easily, comfortably legible. YMMV.

The right answer is to stop abusing your eyes, of course, but a cheap pair of low-power specs might treat the symptoms. A drug store, office supply store, or your favorite cheap online glasses merchant can hook you up even if your eye doc disapproves.
posted by phrits at 9:25 PM on November 24, 2012

In addition to inhibiting tear secretion, Benadryl's sedating effects wear off very quickly, typically in less than a month of regular use. Any effect they're having at this point is purely a placebo. If you're having problems with insomnia, your doctor can help you find something with long term effectiveness (Ambien being the most popular).

Another useful hacker trick to reduce eyestrain is inverting the display colors. NegativeScreen is an easy utility for doing this in Win7. The MacOS has this built in under the accessibility control panel in system preferences. For reading alone, moderately bright green on black is easy on the eyes, especially in dark or poorly lit environments. There's a reason night vision scopes use greenish colors: our eyes see green contrast much more easily in low light.
posted by demons in the base at 5:36 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a program called f.lux that I use that regulates the screen brightness. It's helped my eyes a lot at night.
posted by dragonplayer at 8:58 AM on November 25, 2012

One thing an eye doctor recommended to me: Every half-hour or so, focus on an object that's at least 4 feet further from your face than your monitor is.

My eye doctor calls it the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, spend at least 20 seconds looking at something more than 20 feet away.

It's helped me immensely.
posted by mhoye at 7:21 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, I forgot - try installing a computer usage monitor like Workrave, AntiRSI or Time Out. Then whenever a micro-pause happens, look away from the monitor at something in the distance.
posted by big friendly giant at 10:21 AM on November 26, 2012

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