Digital Eye Strain by Dr. Hedman

digital picture

We live in a digital world. Between TVs, tablets and computers, smartphones and even gaming systems, the average person spends hours every day on digital devices. Many individuals experience eye discomfort and vision problems when viewing electronic screens for extended periods. This is called Digital Eye Strain, or Computer Vision Syndrome and it's becoming a widespread problem as people spend more and more time each day looking at their electronic devices. Digital eyestrain leads to dry eyes and puts strain on the muscles that help the eye focus. When viewing digital devices, the eyes are looking at a pixelated image that is rapidly alternating or flickering multiple times per second. It is much harder for the visual system to maintain a sharp or consistent focus on an electronic image compared to a hard image. Although computer vision syndrome causes discomfort, it doesn't typically cause vision loss or any permanent damage to your eyes.

According to the American Optometric Association, the most common symptoms associated with Digital Eye Strain are:

  • eyestrain
  • headaches
  • blurred vision
  • dry eyes- including burning, stinging, gritty sensation and even watery eyes
  • neck and shoulder pain

These symptoms may be caused by:

  • poor lighting
  • glare on a digital screen
  • improper viewing distances
  • poor seating posture
  • uncorrected vision problems
  • a combination of these factors

The suggestions below can help alleviate some digital eye strain symptoms:

  • Don't take a vision problem to work. Even if you don't need glasses for driving, reading or other activities, you still may have a minor vision problem that is aggravated by computer use. You may need a mild glasses prescription to reduce vision stress on the job. It's a good idea for computer users to get a thorough eye exam every year.
  • Make sure your glasses meet the demands of your job. If you wear glasses for distance vision, reading or both, they may not provide the most efficient vision for viewing your computer screen, which is about 20 to 30 inches from your eyes. Tell your optometrist about your job tasks, and measure your on-the-job sight distances. You may benefit from one of the new lens designs made specifically for computer work.
  • Minimize discomfort from blue light and glare. Blue light from LED and fluorescent lighting as well as monitors, tablets and mobile devices can negatively affect your vision. There are numerous eyeglass lenses now available to selectively block out the high-energy blue light that contributes to the fatigue and strain placed on the eye's focusing system. For people who spend significant hours on a computer or other digital device, these lenses may provide some relief and comfort. Minimize glare on your computer screen by using a glare reduction filter, repositioning your screen, or using drapes, shades or blinds. Also, keep your screen clean; dirt and fingerprints increase glare and reduce clarity.
  • Adjust your work area and computer for your comfort. Place your computer screen 20 to 30 inches from your eyes. The top of teh screen should be slightly below horizontal eye level. Tilt the top of the screen away from you at a 10-to 20-degree angle.
  • Take breaks throughout the day. After working on your computer for an extended period of time, do anything in which your eyes don't have to focus on something up close. To maintain comfortable vision while using digital devices, it is important to use the 20/20/20 rule. For every 20 minutes of digital device use, look away for 20 seconds focusing on something 20 feet away. 
  • Use artificial tears or lubricant drips to help relieve symptoms of dryness. When staring at a digital device, the eye does not blink as frequently, and this causes faster disruption and evaporation of the tear film that protects the ocular surface. When the surface of the eye begins to dry, irritation is felt, such as burning and stinging. Ask for eye care professional what drop they feel would work best for you.