These days, spending a lot of time in front of a computer or smartphone is required, desired, or both.

An online Optometry Times article entitled “Wellpoint Offers 6 Tips for Handling Digital Eye Strain” notes that this puts you at risk for digital eye strain, which can cause dry eyes, red eyes, twitching eyes, blurred vision, headaches, and neck pain. The article states that “according to organizations like The Vision Council, more than 70% of Americans don’t know or don’t believe they are at risk for digital eye strain; however, anyone who is in front of a digital screen is vulnerable.”

The article also describes “decreased productivity and increased work errors, fatigue from staring at a digital screen, and straining to see small fonts and images” as other signs or symptoms.

Digital eye strain happens when the eyes have to keep refocusing. This is because we use computers and smartphones within close range of the eyes. Eventually, the eyes must refocus to process the images on the digital screen.

In the article, Dr. Richard Horn, optometric director for Wellpoint, suggests the following tips to avoid digital eye strain (presented here in short summary):

Follow the “20-20-20 rule.” Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away. This relaxes the focusing muscle inside the eye.

Reduce glare. Install an anti-glare screen on your monitor, and drapes or blinds on windows; use a computer hood to block peripheral or overhead light; and add anti-reflective (AR) coating on eyeglasses lenses

Work in proper lighting. When looking at a digital screen, surrounding light should be half as bright as most offices. Helpful tips include: positioning the monitor so exterior windows are to the side, not in front; opt for lamps using halogen, incandescent or lower intensity bulbs over fluorescent lights.

Blink often. Blinking less can cause dry eyes. Did you know that you tend to blink approximately 1/3 less often than normal when looking at a computer screen? Every 20 minutes blink 10 times by closing the eyes very slowly which not only moistens the eyes, it can help them refocus.

Revise the workspace. Looking back and forth between your screen and a printed page causes stress and strain on the eyes. Put the pages on a well-lit copy stand next to your monitor. Also, poor posture can make it harder to clearly see a digital screen. Consider ergonomic furniture that positions the screen itself 20 to 24 inches from the eyes and its center 10 to 15 degrees below the eyes.

Get a regular comprehensive eye exam. Before your exam, measure the distance between your eyes and the digital screen. Share this measurement with your eye doctor, as well as how often you use computers and smartphones. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), regular computer users should have an exam once a year.