Dry Eye in the Office

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on May 30, 2023
3 min read

Are your eyes red and irritated by the end of a day at the office? Do letters start looking blurry after hours of staring at the computer screen? These are symptoms of dry eye. Surveys of American and European office workers found that 1/3 of them complained of dry eye symptoms.

The bright lights and dry air found in most offices, along with the almost constant staring at computer screens that most of us do, adds to the risk of having dry eyes. But you can take simple steps to prevent it and to ease the symptoms.

You typically get dry eyes when your eyes don’t make enough tears to keep them moist and to flush away dust. Sometimes, the environment dries out your tear film. That can happen in an office setting.

People with desk jobs have routines and workspaces that make it more likely for them to have dry eye. These include:

  • You blink 30% less when you stare at computer or video screens.
  • You look at something for a long time from the same fixed, close distance, such as when working at a computer or reading papers.
  • You sit near air conditioning or heating vents.
  • Your office has poor lighting.
  • Your office has dry air.

Dry eyes and office work don’t have to go hand in hand. Changing your habits and rearranging your workspace are easy ways to keep dry eye at bay:

  • Step away from that screen. Experts recommend the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at something that’s at least 20 feet away.
  • Wear glasses instead of contact lenses. Glasses can help prevent air from blowing on your eyes, as well as slow your tears from evaporating. If you don’t need glasses to see, consider wearing glasses with plain, clear lenses.
  • Keep your body hydrated by drinking 8-10 glasses of water a day.
  • Adjust your computer monitor so it’s about 10-20 degrees (4-5 inches) below your eye level. Looking down keeps you from opening your eyes too wide, which can be drying.
  • Try over-the-counter eye drops such as artificial tears to keep your eyes moist.

If those steps don’t help ease the symptoms of dry eye, you can work with your employer to try some other things, such as:

  • Redirect vents or reposition your work area so that air isn’t blowing toward your face.
  • Adjust the lighting in your office to cut down glare. This may include dimming overhead lights and adding a desk lamp; hanging blinds that block window light, or using filters to diffuse overhead lighting.
  • Use a humidifier in the office to add moisture to the air.

If your eyes are still bothering you and you can’t get relief, it may be time to talk to your doctor. They may be able to suggest different treatments to soothe your dry eyes.