What is Computer Vision Syndrome and is There a Way to Ease it?

Computer Vision Syndrome

So many of us have lives that require us to stare at digital screens for hours each day.  Some studies show the average American worker spends 7 hours a day on the computer either in the office or working from home, which doesn’t take into account other screen time (e.g. tablet or phone use outside of work).  Eye problems caused by prolonged use of digital screens fall under the heading ‘computer vision syndrome,’ also known as, ‘digital eye strain.’ Symptoms may include blurred vision, double vision, dry or red eyes, eye irritation, headaches or neck pain.  

You can think of computer vision syndrome similarly to carpal tunnel syndrome, in that it is a repetitive strain injury of the eyes.  When you look at a digital screen, your eyes have to continually focus and refocus and react to changing and shifting images.  As opposed to reading printed content, a digital screen also adds contrast, flicker and glare.  It’s also proven that we blink far less frequently when using a computer or other digital device, which can cause dry, irritated eyes.

Risk factors for computer vision syndrome include viewing a digital screen for 2 or more hours in a row, poor lighting, a glare or reflection on the digital screen, uncorrected vision issues (such as farsightedness or astigmatism), incorrect prescription eyeglasses, incorrect viewing distance or angle and poor posture while sitting.

You may be able to reduce or prevent computer vision syndrome by changing the way you use digital screens.  Here are some tips that can help prevent eye strain and discomfort.  You can read more in these articles from Healthline and the American Optometric Association.

Take Breaks:

  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes
  • After 2 hours of continuous screen use, rest your eyes for 15 minutes by moving away from the screen and focusing on objects that are closer and further away than your digital screen. Try doing non-screen tasks like organizing paperwork or taking a walk.

Use Eye Drops:

  • Try to remember to blink frequently, but when you’re really involved in your work you are unlikely to be aware of this. In fact, according to the University of Iowa, you blink 66% less while on a computer. Regular use of lubricating eye drops can help keep your eyes moisturized.

Adjust your Computer and your Posture:

  • Position your screen 20-28 inches from your eyes, slightly below eye level by about 4-5 inches. Tilt the top of the screen back about 10-20 degrees. Make sure you’re not tilting your neck upward or downward to see the screen.
  • Consider making text more readable by increasing the contrast, brightness and font size on your device.
  • Sit up straight with your ears aligned over your shoulders and avoid letting your head or neck lean forward. Try to keep your feet flat on the floor with your knees level or slightly higher than your hips (which requires a chair of the right height).

Reduce Screen Glare:

  • Screen glare occurs when light, for example from overhead fixtures or nearby windows, is reflected off your screen. Try to reduce or eliminate glare by closing blinds, shades or curtains on windows causing glare on the screen, using lower wattage light bulbs, dimming overhead lights and adding a screen glare filter to your computer.

Make Sure you are Up to Date on your Optometry Screening

  • If you wear eyeglasses, make sure your current prescription is correct. 
  • If you currently wear glasses for distance, close reading, or both, you may need a new prescription just for viewing digital screens.

If your symptoms persist or worsen, if you experience sudden vision changes, eye flashes, unexplained eye pain or redness that doesn’t go away or dry eyes that don’t improve with drops, these could be signs of other underlying vision issues or health problems and should be mentioned to your doctor.

Jennifer Abrams, MD, June 29, 2021