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30 Jul 2021

5 ways you can reduce eye strain when using a screen

Spending too much time staring at your computer or laptop? We've interviewed experts from the eyecare industry to help you keep your eyes in tip-top condition

Whether you're getting your life admin done or attempting to work from home without distractions, a quality computer monitor is a great way to improve your productivity. But too much screen work can also play havoc with your eyes if you aren't using them in a healthy way.

And with many of us needing to set up our studies, bedrooms or dining rooms as makeshift offices, using our computers healthily is harder than ever before, with working hours blending into leisure time just a bit too easily.

We asked experts from Specsavers and the Association of Optometrists to find out how to maximise the benefits of a new computer monitor so you can keep your eyes feeling better for longer.

Complete your home office setup with our pick of the best computer monitors.

1. Buy a monitor with easy-to-adjust settings

If you work on a variety of different tasks and programs on your computer, you might want to adjust the screen settings to suit each task. For example, many monitors have a reading mode that dials back the blue light and gives the screen a more natural, yellow-ish hue, like a paper book.

More importantly, you should look to match the brightness of the monitor to the brightness of your room. Dr Peter Hampson, Clinical and Professional Director at the Association of Optometrists (AOP) explains:

'If the screen is set to a very low brightness in a bright room, it can be hard to see and cause eye strain as you have to battle with the reflections caused by the low screen brightness.

'Conversely, if your screen is set to a very high brightness level in a dark room, that can also cause eye strain as it can be similar to staring at a lamp for hours on end, something most of us would be keen to avoid.'

Our computer monitor reviews tell you how easy each model is to use when it comes to the on-screen menus and physical buttons.

The very best monitors for ease of use will come with a proper four-way joystick-style button that makes it easy to navigate menus. While the monitors that are a faff to use typically have four or five buttons on the front or back that don't quite match up with what is being displayed on screen.

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2. Get the environment right

Glare can make it harder to read what's on screen, particularly when working with darker content. While very dry and cold air from a poorly placed air-con unit can make your eyes feel dryer and weary.

Dr Peter Hampson from the AOP says: 'Factors such as air conditioning and glare from uncovered windows, lamps and overhead light fixtures can all leave your eyes feeling strained, dry and irritated.'

It's best to try and solve these issues, as even the very best monitors will exhibit some form of glare when faced with a bright light source.

Using a computer monitor

On the topic of glare, Nigel Best, Specsavers Professional Services Consultant, recommends using a matte screen filter to completely eliminate glare from your screen if you're having issues.

A 3M-branded anti-glare screen film for a 24-inch monitor costs £64 on Amazon at the time of writing.

Given that's half the cost of a typical monitor, it's best to ensure what you're buying is pretty good at reducing glare to begin with. Our reviews tell you how reflective the screens are on the computer monitors we've tested.

All will have some level of glare, but generally speaking it should be manageable unless the screen is pointing directly towards an unshaded window.

Get more tips on optimising your home office in our guide to staying healthy when working at home.

3. Pick a screen with ergonomic adjustments

If you have an old monitor, be it a big, chunky CRT or even a flatscreen that's 10 or so years old, you might be surprised how adaptable and versatile some modern monitors are.

Specsavers' Nigel Best explains: 'LCD displays are much more adjustable than CRTs. You can adjust the tilt and angle, the height and orientation to make screen time more eye friendly.'

Not only does this let you adjust your screen to exactly the right position for the best image quality and reduced glare, it also ensures you're sitting in the most ergonomic way possible.

Adjusting a monitor

The very best screens have height adjustment and swivel, making this far easier. But even basic screens will have some degree of tilt that will help you get the screen into a more comfortable position.

Keep in mind if you choose to buy a monitor without height adjustment, you'll have to put your monitor on top of something (such as a stack of books) to get it to the perfect height.

As a rule, you want eye level to be at the top of the screen when sitting. Of course, as you shift in your chair throughout the day, this level may change, which means easy height adjustment is even more important.

In terms of distance, Specsavers' Nigel Best recommends your eyes be approximately 23 inches (58cm) away from a screen on a desk and 14 inches (36cm) away when using a laptop.

If you have the room for it, consider picking up more than one monitor or using your laptop as a secondary screen. See our advice on how to connect two monitors to a laptop or PC.

4. Get the font size right

It's not just about the monitor itself - make sure the content on screen is suited to your viewing position and eyesight.

Dr Hampson explains: 'Ideally, to avoid fatigue, text should be set a couple of sizes larger than the smallest size you can normally read. Your optometrist will be able to measure what the smallest size is that you can see at a given distance and advise on an appropriate text size.'

In addition, ensure your computer is set to the correct 'scaling' settings to ensure other parts of the computer, such as on-screen buttons, prompts and dialogue messages are all displayed in a legible format so you don't have to squint or lean in.

5. Follow 20-20-20

A key part of using your monitor healthily is to know when to stop using it. And, actually, it isn't particularly arduous to follow the 20-20-20 rule, which both Hampson and Best recommend.

woman drinking coffee

The rule simply requires that every 20 minutes, you focus your eyes on something 20 feet (6 metres) away for 20 seconds.

You could set a reminder on your watch or phone, or there are even some monitors that will do this for you (see below).

Three monitors with handy features

To help get you started, we've picked three monitors that have different handy features that should make it easier to work at your desk in a way that won't compromise your comfort.

Dell S2421HSX, £139

Dell S2421HSX

This 24-inch monitor from Dell features a height-adjustable stand, which will make it easier to get this screen into the perfect position both for better picture quality and better ergonomics.

Read our full Dell S2421HSX review to see whether this monitor is the complete package.

LG 27MK430H, £139

LG 27MK430H

This large 27-inch screen has menus that are easy to navigate and settings that are a cinch to adjust thanks to a clear layout and a four-direction joystick that makes simple changes nice and quick. If you need to change picture mode or brightness levels frequently, this monitor is worth considering.

See how it did in our lab tests by clicking through to our LG 27MK430H review.

Asus VP229HE, £108

Asus VP229HE

This budget 22-inch monitor might not be brimming with features, but it does have a function unique to the monitors we've tested so far. It has a Rest Reminder mode that you can set up to remind you to take a break.

Is this monitor real bargain or are there compromises elsewhere? Read our full Asus VP229HE review to find out.

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