Let’s face it: We live in a digital world. Computers and screens are everywhere—at work, at home, at school. So it’s no wonder that in this cyber age, we have developed a new physical disorder in response to our devices. Digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome, is an umbrella term for a range of eye and vision-related symptoms that can result from looking at digital screens for an extended period of time.
If digital eye strain sounds like something you might have, you’re not alone. Computer-related vision complaints account for more than 10 million eye doctor visits a year in the United States, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). The prevalence of computer vision syndrome has given rise to a few optometric solutions, including special computer eyewear such as anti-glare glasses for computer use, computer reading glasses (for those Kindle addicts), and prescription computer glasses.
What Are the Symptoms of Digital Eye Strain?
Symptoms of computer vision syndrome can vary among individuals, but the most common symptoms include eye fatigue (a feeling of strain or tiredness in the muscles of the eyes); headaches or migraines; dry, red, or irritated eyes; blurred vision (especially blurry distance vision); double vision; and neck, back, or shoulder pain.
What Causes Digital Eye Strain?
Quite simply, digital screens make our eyes work harder. When you are on a computer for a prolonged period of time, your eyes follow the same path of vision repetitively, which can put strain on your eye muscles. The problem may be exacerbated if you have other eye problems such as presbyopia (farsightedness) or astigmatism; if you need glasses and aren’t using them; or if you have wrong prescription lenses.
Poor posture or incorrect ergonomics can also exacerbate digital eye strain, as can glare and/or poor lighting. Glare occurs when either indoor lighting or sunlight from windows reflects off your screen (think of headlights shining too brightly in your direction).
People who look at a screen for two or more continuous hours a day are most at risk of developing computer eye syndrome (this includes kids who play on devices), according to the AOA.
How Can I Prevent Digital Eye Strain?
The following quick tips can help you steer clear of digital eye strain or reduce its severity.
Follow the 20-20-20 rule. After every 20 minutes of computer use, look at something 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.
Take breaks. Following two hours of computer use, rest your eyes for 15 minutes.
Keep a distance. Make sure your computer monitor or device is set at the recommended distance of 20-28 inches away from your face.
Be aware of glare. Reposition lighting fixtures so the light doesn’t reflect off your computer, and try to position your computer away from window light as well.
Adjust your screen settings. Find a screen brightness level that’s comfortable for your eyes. You can also increase the font size of what you’re reading or typing.
Remember to blink. Staring at a digital screen can inhibit your natural blinking reflex—but if you don’t blink enough you’ll have dry, irritated eyes. So make a point of blinking here and there.
Use a document holder. If you frequently look back and forth between paper documents and your computer screen, position a document holder right next to your monitor so you don’t have to move your head while you work.
Get an eye exam. Have your eyes checked out by your eye doctor, who will check for additional eye issues that might be contributing to digital eye strain.
Try computer eyewear. For some people, anti-glare glasses can help reduce strain on computer-weary eyes.