Last Updated: March 27, 2023
With advancements in technology, our everyday lives are increasingly revolving around digital devices for work, school, and leisure. As a result, there is a rise in a group of eye and vision problems related to digital screen use, known as computer vision syndrome or digital eye strain.1
What are the symptoms of computer vision syndrome?1
- Blurry vision
- Double vision
- Dry eyes
- Red eyes
- Irritated eyes
- Tired eyes
- Watery eyes
Many devices are used at a close range from our eyes, such as laptops, computers, tablets, phones, and handheld gaming console. In order to see these screens at a short distance, the muscles of our eyes need to contract to allow for accommodation (the ability to focus our eyes allowing us to see clearly) and convergence (the ability to move our eyes inwards allowing us to see a single image).2-4 Overtime, with prolonged screen use, the muscles in our eyes can become fatigued causing our focusing ability to spasm.2-4 This strain on our eyes can lead to symptoms of computer vision syndrome such as headaches, blurry vision, and double vision.1
When we are looking at a screen, we are concentrated on the work material or TV show that we are watching which causes us to stare. Staring leads us to reduce how often we blink to about only 4 times per minute from the average norm of 17 times per minute.5 The decreased blink rate will cause the surface of our eyes to dry out leading to the symptoms above.
Our eyes could be exerting extra effort to maintain a clear image during screen use. Having an uncorrected eye prescription, such as farsightedness, nearsightedness, astigmatism or presbyopia can all make screen use less comfortable and efficient.6-10 Underlying vision problems that may be otherwise unnoticed can be precipitated with increased visual demands during screen use. Even people with perfect vision may experience symptoms of computer vision syndrome with prolonged screen use.
Ways to prevent or reduce computer vision syndrome
1. Take regular breaks11
Give your eyes a break according to the 20-20-20 rule to avoid eye strain and dry eyes. Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break and look far away at a scene at least 20 feet away.
2. Remember to blink
We blink less when we are looking at screens, which can dry out the front surface of the eye. Blinking plays an important part of maintaining a healthy ocular surface. Pair this tip with when you are taking regular breaks from the screen.
3. Use artificial tear drops
In addition to taking breaks and blinking more, eye drops can provide relief to the eyes. Consult your optometrist to determine which eye drops are the best for you.
4. Computer glasses
In some cases, individuals may benefit from having a pair of computer glasses that help with focusing on screens.
5. Reduce the glare
Keep screens free of fingerprints and dust, as both can reduce visual clarity. Adjust screens to minimize glare from external sources such as the window and other light source.
6. Adjust the screen
Set the font size, contrast and brightness of the screen to suit the comfort of your eyes. For example, increase the font size if it is too small to read and match the brightness of the screen with your surroundings. For computers, position the screen greater than arm’s length (>50cm) from your eyes and 20 degrees below eye level.12
As our reliance on digital devices increase, it is important for us to become more cognizant of our behavior when using screens and establish good habits for better eye health. If you are experiencing computer vision syndrome or would like to learn more, visit your doctor of optometry for an eye exam.
- Blehm C et al. Computer vision syndrome: a review. Surv Ophthalmol. 2005;50(3):253-262.
- Daum KM et al. Accommodative dysfunction. Doc Ophthalmol. 1983;55(3):177-198.
- Gratton I et al. Change in visual function and viewing distance during work with VDTs. Ergonomics. 1990;33(12):1433-1441.
- Gur S et al. Objective evaluation of visual fatigue in VDU works. J Occup Health.1994:201-204.
- Bentivoglio AR et al. Analysis of blink rate patterns in normal subjects. J Mov Disord. 2004;12(6):1028-1034.
- Bregu M et al. Evaluation of asthenopia in VDT users. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2007;48(13):1021.
- Wiggins NP et al. Visual discomfort and astigmatic refractive errors in VDT use. J Am Optom Assoc. 1991;62:680-684.
- Akinci A et al. The correlation between headache and refractive errors. J Pediatr Ophthalmol Strabismus. 2008;12(3):290-293.
- Jaschinski W et al. Computer vision syndrome in presbyopia and beginning presbyopia: effects of spectacle lens type. Clin Exp Optom. 2015;98(3):228-233.
- Yan Z et al. Computer vision syndrome: a widely spreading but largely unknown epidemic among computer users. Comput Hum Behav. 2008;24(5):2026-2042.
- Mclean L et al. Computer terminal work and the benefit of microbreaks. 2001;32(30):225-237.
- Jaschinski W et al. A procedure to determine the individually comfortable position of visual displays relative to the eyes. Ergonomics. 1999;41(2):535-549.