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The Eyes Have It

How do your eyes feel right now? How long have you been sitting at the computer?

Chances are pretty good that if you’re an academic, you spend a significant number of hours each day reading from printed material and from the computer screen. Dry, itchy, or irritated eyes can be caused by a number of factors, including fatigue, allergies, medication, and aging. However, there are some simple self-care strategies you can use throughout your day to improve the comfort and health of your eyes. (Please note that these general recommendations should not replace medical care. If you have a medical condition or experience pain or other serious symptoms, consult your health care practitioner.)

Change Your Focusing Distance

Spending too much time at the same focus distance is one of the primary causes of eye fatigue, particularly when you’re focusing at fairly close range. Every 40 minutes or so, look away from your book or computer screen, off into the distance. Then look at something close to you. Alternate for a a minute or so before returning to your work. This exercises the muscles in your eye and prevents the buildup of tension.

Blink More

Studies have shown that computer users tend to blink much less frequently than people doing other tasks. Blinking helps lubricate the surface of the eye with tears, washing away dust and other irritants. Consciously reminding yourself to blink at intervals during the day will help relieve dry eyes.

In addition to simply blinking more frequently, pay attention to how you are blinking. If you blink too quickly, you may not be fully shutting the lid and allowing the tears to spread over the surface of the eye. A few times a day, take a minute or two to slowly and thoughtfully close your eyelids all the way and keep them closed a fraction of a second, a bit longer than a regular blink. Open your eyes. Repeat a few times. It may feel awkward, but that’s because we are usually not aware of the blink mechanism until we have a problem with it.

Palming

One of the best ways to relieve tired eyes is to practice palming:

  • Rub the palms of your hands briskly together for a minute to warm them up.
  • Close your eyes and cup your hands over your eyes (your palms should not directly touch your eyelids). Feel the warmth seep into your eye socket.
  • Relax for a minute or two, letting the darkness and warmth refresh your eyes.

Additional Resources

You can learn more about eye care here:

Do you experience eyestrain from your academic pursuits? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed image from flickr user flo21]

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