How to protect your eyes from strain during remote work, learning

Langis Michaud, dean of the school of optometry at Université de Montréal, offers advice on how to give your eyes a proper break during increased screen time.

Optometrist Langis Michaud offers advice on how to give your eyes a proper break

With the pandemic keeping more of us home than usual, there's something that many of us need to pay more attention to - our eyes. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Since the pandemic began last spring, many of us have been forced to work, or learn, from home, meaning uninterrupted hours spent in front of a computer.

So it's important, said one expert, to give our eyes a proper break and reduce our screen exposure when possible.

"The screen itself is not harmful, it's the way we use it," Langis Michaud, dean of the school of optometry at Université de Montréal, told CBC's All in a Weekend. 

"Just like a hammer is very useful to build a house, but you can use it to break a window."

Michaud said screens begin to pose problems when people use them too close to their face, and for long periods with no breaks.

There is a tendency, he added, for people to have a phone or tablet screen closer to their eyes than they normally would with a book or a desktop. That places additional stress on the visual system.

If you're developing a headache, or your eyes are watering or getting red, then it's time for a break from the screen, Michaud said.

While some doctors recommend taking just a 20-second break from your screen every 20 minutes, Michaud said between two and three minutes is better.
Dr. Langis Michaud says breaks are important to relieve the strain placed on our eyes from continual concentration on a screen. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

"That doesn't mean you have to stop working," he said. "You can get a glass of water, go to the washroom or do something else other than concentrating on the screen."

Some other tips: Eliminate window reflection on your screen, or add a filter to dim the light or colour of your screen if you're sensitive to the brightness.

Ensuring that you have the correct, up-to-date prescription for glasses or contacts is also important, Michaud said.

People who spend a great deal of time in front of their computer can get a second pair of glasses made specifically for that purpose.

Limit screen time when possible

For children or older students who went from spending all day in school to spending long hours at home doing remote learning, breaks outside are encouraged.

MIchaud said it's important for young people to get enough exposure to natural light and to exercise their far-sighted muscles.

For children under eight years old, Michaud recommends limiting screen time to one hour per day when possible, with a break every 30 minutes.

"We are born with eyes that don't see that well," he explained. "It takes from six months to eight to 10 years old to mature that process."

For children less than two years old, Michaud recommends "zero exposure" to screens, "not even one minute."

"Eyes are not strong enough at this very young age to be exposed to this stress," he said.

With files from CBC's All in a Weekend


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