Help a programmer take care of her eyes, please.
March 5, 2013 5:44 PM   Subscribe

I just started my first developer job. I squint at the computer screen all day. By the end of the day, my eyes are red and bloodshot. I can't deal with small text, but I can't make it all bigger - for instance, I can change the size of the code in my IDE, but not the debugger. I've reduced the brightness of my monitors dramatically. The only time my eyes don't hurt is when I'm so absorbed in my work that I don't notice. By the end of the day, I don't want to focus my eyesight on anything; it's even killing me to type this. Even watching tv bothers me. I seriously don't know how to take care of my eyes. Can you please offer some advice, and even give me a few horror stories about what happens to people who don't learn to take care of their eyes?

I've been to two optometrists in the last year; one gave me a prescription for 1.25 glasses (they seem to help only a tiny bit) and the other said I have 20/20 vision. I recently started Cipralex, if that is relevant. I've noticed my eyes are more dilated than usual (I've been on SSRIs before, and did not have this side effect).
posted by kitcat to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I work with some engineers who swear by Gunnar Glases. It's a yellow tint lens that is said to reduce eye strain.

You can also try f.lux which allows you to set the white balance of your screen. Try it super yellow and see if that improves anything. If yes, the glasses may help as well.
posted by wemayfreeze at 5:48 PM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

You may want to look into what used to be called "Piano glasses" and are now often called "Computer Glasses" -- they're specifically designed for vision at that mid-range, between when you would wear glasses for reading and glasses for distance vision. Finding an optometrist who knows about these and can help you with them may help.
posted by brainmouse at 5:50 PM on March 5, 2013

What operating system are you using? There might be an option to make all text bigger, including your debugger.

A lot of this is going to be related to text size. If your text size is too small you will have your face too close to the screen and then you will get eyestrain and maybe neck and back strain.
posted by grouse at 5:57 PM on March 5, 2013

I sit at a computer all day in a dimly lit office and spend most of my time looking at spreadsheets and pdfs with looooots of tiny little numbers on them. I noticed I was having issues several months ago and went to an optometrist.

I got a prescription for reading glasses specifically for computer reading distance. My vision is pretty good, so the prescription is weak, but even so, this has made a humongous difference in my quality of life. I also find that merely having the glasses on protects me from an extra layer of screen glare (even though I don't have the special antiglare coating on the lenses).

I have my screen brightness turned waaaay down. I see that you're already doing this. Good.

I got special eyedrops for my insufficiently tearing eyes. You should try them out. They're extra viscous and slightly greasy to the touch, but man, my eyes feel awesome after I use them (though a bit blurry for about 20 seconds or so). I use Systane Ultra, but apparently there are several similar brands.
posted by phunniemee at 6:00 PM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'll be watching this thread because I have had and continue to have (to some extent) similar problems. Things that I have tried that have helped a bit:

- manually refocusing your eyes. My optometrist told me I should be taking a break for at least a couple minutes an hour and focusing my eyes on objects in the distance. I like, for example, looking out a window and focusing on something in the far distance, then, after thirty seconds or so, shifting to something at a different distance or far to the left or right, then shifting again and so forth. I get involved in things I'm working on and forget to do this and then regret it later - if you are one of those people who can do like a Pomodoro timer or whatever, this could be a good use of it.

- to some extent, having a dual monitor setup in which one of your monitors is at a slightly different angle/distance from your eyes/resolution can be good because of the ways that it gets you refocusing your eyes (as above), albeit on a more micro-type level (or maybe I am just getting some kind of placebo effect out of this)

- eye exercises -- I googled this, as you can, and there are also lots of iPhone apps. One that I learned that always gives me some kind of pain relief is slowly rolling my eyes back and forth, but there are lots of them.

- lowering my screen resolution / staying at a high screen resolution but changing (in Windows 7) the ClearType size setting have both helped to some extent (but may not work re: your debugger)
posted by raisindebt at 6:01 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

You need to take breaks. Yeah, I know that sucks as a programmer and sometimes when you are in the groove you are really in it, but you really need to take breaks. You can try the 20-20-20 rule. It's pretty easy. Set up a timer on your phone.

The link I posted references the 20-20-20 rule for eyes and ups the ante a little more with movement.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:01 PM on March 5, 2013

I have this issue

I bought the weakest reading glasses from the chemists and use them only when I need them. Works for me
posted by mattoxic at 6:07 PM on March 5, 2013

What debugger are you using? You can usually change the font size of a shell.
posted by irishcoffee at 6:10 PM on March 5, 2013

I am using JDeveloper. I can look more deeply into options to change the debugging text size...
posted by kitcat at 6:12 PM on March 5, 2013

What's your lighting situation like? When I last worked as a cubicle slave I climbed up on a ladder to untwist the old-school green fluorescent mounted above my cube to reduce the ambient light. At home I keep my office window covered by shades and use low ambient lighting in the 6500K range. My dad uses a device (for photography work) that constantly updates the brightness of his monitor according to the ambient light level, but I don't recall which one.

You should take breaks, too. You don't have to get up and leave your desk or anything--just focus on something far away and something close to you every once in awhile.

I have chronically dry eyes, so I use this disgusting but awesome thick lubricating eye drop that you can pick up over the counter. At night I use a decidedly un-sexy eye ointment.
posted by xyzzy at 6:13 PM on March 5, 2013

Like I said, I'm a dummy about this. Could someone explain the impact of the lighting situation? Yes, just fluorescent light, no daylight where I sit.
posted by kitcat at 6:17 PM on March 5, 2013

Setting your monitor to a comfortable combination of brightness and contrast is more important than just dimming it. Take some time to tweak it, while doing everyday tasks.

Using decent fonts and color schemes is a huge help as well. I use Solarized Light and Source Code Pro, which makes for a markedly more pleasant experience when I am doing some deep spelunking into code.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:17 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

The biggest thing that helped me was switching from dark text on white for all of my text reading to light text on black. It's inherently less bright that way because most of the screen is dark.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:17 PM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Were your optometrist appointments in the morning or a weekend?
If so try scheduling an eye appointment after a day of coding.
posted by plinth at 6:18 PM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

You need a bigger monitor. The best ones you can get (thunderbolt display for a mac, dell u2711) are $1000 or $800. This will help you more than anything else. If your office won't spring for one, buy it for yourself. It is that important. (Get a good chair, too.)
posted by bensherman at 6:22 PM on March 5, 2013

I get less eyestrain by moving my monitors as far away as the desk allows.

However, you will have to take the advice of some earlier comments and increase font sizes / decrease screen resolution since everything is even smaller.
posted by meowzilla at 6:27 PM on March 5, 2013

I had this problem before I set my display settings to the native resolution of the monitor
posted by canoehead at 6:31 PM on March 5, 2013

I've worked as a developer for about a decade and I'd also recommend switching to white text on black backgrounds, as well as periodically looking at something in the distance. I tend to space out a lot at work so the latter is not much of a problem for me, but if you need to be reminded there are countless countdown timers for whatever platform you happen to be working on.
posted by Reversible Diamond-Encrusted Ermine Codpiece at 6:31 PM on March 5, 2013

nthing setting your monitor color temperature to something yellowish.

The biggest improvement for me came from bias lighting: basically, put a lamp behind your monitor to reduce the contrast between your monitor brightness and the brightness around it.
posted by modernserf at 7:02 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your ambient light should be about half the brightness of your display. Overhead fluorescents are pretty much the worst thing in the world for computer work. You should speak to your office managers to figure out a solution--if you have your own office, just turn off the overhead lighting and use a floor lamp. If you are in a cubicle farm you may have to do more wrangling to get ergonomically appropriate lighting.
posted by xyzzy at 7:25 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get the largest IPS monitor you can afford. You also may want to try a CCFL backlit monitor if you are using a LED backlit one now.
posted by wongcorgi at 8:12 PM on March 5, 2013

I have similar problems with my eyes, related to eyestrain and staring at a screen for 8 hours a day. My optometrist put a stronger prism in my glasses (I'm farsighted, and my eyes REALLY don't like to converge for things up close). A prism was the magic bullet for me - no more eyestrain, no more headaches. Sounds strange but keeping well hydrated helps me with headaches too. I keep 1/2 a lemon in my water bottle and suck it down like crazy all day to keep hydrated. My office is super dry.

Nthing the suggestions for changing text size and icon size on the computer as well.
posted by luciddream928 at 8:32 PM on March 5, 2013

I have 20/20 vision (better than that, actually) but it turns out that what I really am is slightly farsighted, with a very powerful focusing mechanism. This allows me to pull focus close to my face, but after a while, that gets tiring. I had horrible horrible eye problems when I first got my laptop, because I am short and so the screen was right at the edge of the place where I had to really pull focus instead of just focusing. +0.75 glasses changed my life. I know you've tried +1.25, but if your vision is like mine -- you can MAKE it be 20/20, but you're naturally farsighted -- you may need stronger glasses.
posted by KathrynT at 8:38 PM on March 5, 2013

Drink more water and remind yourself to blink more.
Install Workrave, and follow all the exercises (not all of them are eye exercises).
Take fish oil or flaxseed oil to help with dry eyes, if it doesn't interfere with your medication.
Nthing f.lux, bigger font sizes, changing screen resolution and using a dark theme.
posted by hooray at 8:54 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you are squinting, something is the matter. You shouldn't have to consciously do anything to be able to focus on things- your eyes should be accommodating for you on their own. Why do you squint? Is the text blurry? Too bright?

As for personal recommendations, I find that dim environments are awful on my eyes. Dim room + computer screen is annoying. Triply so if it is light text on a dark background. I get stripes in my vision from that. I also find that shadowy light is annoying. Lots of diffuse light (no shadows) works best for me. Lastly, it is harder to focus in dim light. Your eyes are like cameras, and cameras take crappy pictures in dim light.
posted by gjc at 2:17 AM on March 6, 2013

The redoubtable Cool Tools recently featured these glasses.
posted by yclipse at 3:47 AM on March 6, 2013

I got a diagnosis of blepharitis from my optometrist, which I guess is common among female cube monkeys of a certain age. It definitely gets better if I stay away from screens for a few days. Tablets absolutely kill me (backlit & small).

What really helps me is warm/hot compresses on the eyes for five minutes at night. Take two socks, put 1/2 - 3/4 cup dry rice in each of them, and nuke them for two minutes at 30% power or so. The compresses should be as warm as you can tolerate - make sure you can hold them comfortably before putting them on your eyes, though!

But that works for my particular diagnosis - you may have a different issue.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:00 AM on March 6, 2013

Also, try to blink more. Most people who stare at a screen decrease their blink rate, which means that eyes get dried out and painful pretty quickly. Gentle eyedrops could help too.
posted by acm at 7:03 AM on March 6, 2013

Setting Monitor DPI correctly can be important for preventing eye strain when using high pixel density displays.
posted by Lanark at 11:27 AM on March 6, 2013

I had this problem. It was cured by using a timer to take breaks and using this VIM color scheme guide to customize my programming environment. Something like dusk or oceanbreeze.
posted by occidental at 7:05 PM on March 6, 2013

It's a personal thing so it's hard to give a specific answer to you. I like plenty of light but my former manager was only happy in darkness. So here's some things you can try.

Put light behind your monitor. Ambient lighting makes my eyes happier.

Add a second monitor with a lower DPI just for running your debugger. This will also help you to adjust your focus distance periodically if it's farther away.

If you're on a mac, you can use Handy Gamma to adjust your white balance and monitor gamma to whatever makes you happy. (Ob: I wrote Handy Gamma. Memail me if you want a free code). f.lux is another option though it doesn't do gamma adjustment.

Refresh Plus eyedrops are fantastic. They're preservative free and feel just like the name: Refreshing. Buy a box and keep them at work.
posted by chairface at 5:23 PM on March 7, 2013

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