Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
Q: I think electronic screens are ruining my eyes, but my job and my social life require screen time. What can I do to protect against further deterioration?
—Kris J., Fresno, Calif.
How to prevent eye strain from electronic screens
1. Consolidate screen time.
First, be smart about consolidating screen time. Instead of checking your phone constantly, discipline yourself to check several times throughout the day—not dozens of times. One of the reasons I continue to wear a watch is so I don’t whip out my phone to check the time. Definitely don’t check your phone first thing in the morning. Do not plug in your phone at your bedside. If you share a bed, ask your bedmate to do the same. Just put the phones away.
2. Wear amber-tinted glasses help block the irritating blue light emitted from screens.
If you’re going to have a screen session longer than 10 minutes, consider investing in a pair—either customized for your correction, or uncorrected that you can slip over glasses, or just to shield eyes if you don’t wear glasses at all.
3. Adjust screen resolution.
Computer eye strain can often be greatly reduced by adjusting the screen resolution (if that makes letters too small, increase the font size), and also by adjusting the screen contrast so the light isn’t too bright or too dim. Also, position your screen so there’s no glare from other bright light sources. Don’t shine a light at your screen or sit with a window at your back. Make sure you don’t have to hold your head at a weird angle to work at the computer. Thighs and forearms should be parallel to the floor, with the monitor and keyboard straight ahead.
4. Do regular eye exercises
There are many eye exercises that you can do in less than 5 minutes per day. Here are three of my favorites from SuperVision: A Daily Program for Exceptional Eye Health by Purna Yoga master-teacher Aadil Palkhivala. They can be done preventively, one to three times daily, or whenever your eyes feel strained and you want a therapeutic break.
- Sitting with good posture, upright but relaxed, feet on floor, thighs parallel with floor, belly gently drawn in toward your spine, and up toward your heart, vigorously rub your palm together for several seconds. The friction will create some pleasant heat. Apply the warm palms of your hands gently to your closed eyelids and allow the warmth to transfer into the eyeballs. Let your vision sink into darkness. Relax your eyeballs until you see no light. This will increase blood flow to all the muscles around the eyes, as well as promote healing. Repeat as desired.
- Keeping your eyes closed, move them in a big figure-8 pattern, about 5–10 times in one direction, slowly, not causing any strain whatsoever, and then go in the other direction. Sometimes it takes a few seconds to be sure you’re really going in the opposite direction. Then just rest with the eyes closed for a few moments.
- Find a window from which you can see something at a distance, or just go outside. Hold a pencil about 12–14 inches in front of your face, keeping shoulders relaxed. Look at the tip of the pencil, then “jump” your vision to an object in the distance, then back to the pencil. Jump back and forth quickly but not frenetically. This classic eye exercise, called “near-far jumps,” will both strengthen the ocular muscles and improve their flexibility. Changing the focal distance requires changing the relationship of the tiny muscles all around the eyes.
What vitamins and nutrients do you need for eye health?
Your eyes need water, just like the rest of your body. Drink water first thing in the morning and throughout the day, especially during exercise. The only bad time to drink water is during a meal. Let your digestive juices work undiluted on your food. Otherwise, sip pure clear water throughout the day.
2. Vitamin A
Your eyes also need a healthy diet of nutrients that help maintain visual acuity. Everyone knows about night vision and vitamin A. I recommend 25,000 IUs daily. Beta-carotene is a bright yellow-orange precursor to vitamin A found abundantly in nature. Turmeric, pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens are all good sources. (Chlorophyll masks the beta-carotene color in leafy greens.) Eat yellow and orange spices, fruits, and vegetables daily. Vitamin A is harder to get from your diet, but beta-carotene is easy if you make vegetables the centerpiece of your meals.
3. Multivitamin with taurine, lutein, zeaxanthin, and bilberry
You can also look for a multivitamin that’s targeted for ocular health. In addition to the basics, they usually contain taurine, lutein (10 mg daily), zeaxanthin (2 mg daily), and bilberry or other darkly pigmented fruit concentrates (such as pomegranate or resveratrol). Taurine is the most abundant sulfur-containing amino acid in the body. Besides promoting retinal health, taurine improves muscle tone, reduces obesity, and is critical for good hearing. It’s found naturally in fish and meat. If you are a vegetarian, you should supplement 1–2 grams daily (1,000–2,000 mg). Lutein is a very specific bioflavonoid that is healing to the retina.
Did You Know?
Bilberry, a blue-black berry from Europe, is a cousin of the American blueberry.
You may need to experiment to find an ocular multi that works for you. Choose a product that contains most, if not all, of the ingredients listed above. Do a “loading dose” of double the recommended intake for 7–10 days. If in 10 days the new ocular multi allows you to use your glasses less, or have better vision endurance, then drop down to the recommended dose and assess if this will maintain continued progress. Sometimes, not getting worse is progress.