Our digital devices are a normal part of everyday life. From our smartphones to computer screens and tablets, we enjoy screen time when we are working, studying and shopping to name a few activities. This list has expanded even more with the current COVID-19 pandemic as we use technology to stay connected with others during social distancing.
However, all of this digital viewing can cause eye strain. It’s so common that the condition has earned its own name: computer vision syndrome. As many as 90% of people who use digital devices say they experience eye strain.
If you look at a screen for two or more hours on a daily basis, you will likely experience digital eye strain. Keep reading to find out what causes eye strain, the symptoms to look for and how to prevent and manage it.
Why digital devices cause eye strain
Our eyes react differently to digital screens than when we read from paper or other materials. This has to do with lighting, distance, contrast, blinking and a variety of other factors.
Using digital devices strains our eyes for these reasons:
- Screens can cause glare or reflections that can tire our eyes.
- We may put the screen too close to our eyes, too far away or at an awkward angle.
- We tend to squint more when we read a screen. This puts tension on our eyelid muscles.
- There’s not enough contrast between the text and the background, which strains our pupils.
- Viewing a digital screen over time can reduce our eyes’ ability to move toward each other to focus.
- Too much screen time can cause a delay in how our pupils get larger or smaller, depending on how much light is coming into them.
- We usually blink less and have fewer complete blinks when we look at a screen. This means our eyes are getting moistened less often and can become dry.
Symptoms of eye strain
When your eyes feel tired or your vision starts to become less clear, you may be experiencing eye strain. If you spend a lot of time in front of a computer or device, consider these symptoms to see if you might need to find some solutions to digital eye strain:
- It’s harder to concentrate.
- Your eyes feel dry or are watery.
- Your neck, back or shoulders are sore.
- You feel you can’t keep your eyes open.
- Your eyes itch, burn or are tired or sore.
- Your vision is blurred or you’re seeing double.
- You have a headache after viewing your screen.
4 ways to protect yourself from digital eye strain
Be kind to your eyes by making some changes in how your computer workstation is set up. Start taking breaks from your devices and adopting some eye-saving habits.
Check out these four things you can do to either prevent or minimize digital eye strain:
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen for 20 seconds, focusing on a distance 20 feet away to give your eyes a break.
- Check your contact lenses. Contact lens wearers are at a higher risk for digital eye strain due to the increased dryness contacts cause. Consult your eye doctor to help find the right lens material, rewetting system and lens care for you.
- Minimize dry eyes. Make some changes to your work environment so the airflow coming from air conditioning or a fan isn’t blowing across your eyes. Use lubricating eye drops to keep your eyes moistened. Taking omega-3 supplements can also improve dry-eye symptoms.
- Improve your blink rate. Strategies that help prompt your eyes to blink more include putting an anti-reflective film over your screen. You can also cut down on reflections to improve the contrast of your screen. This improves blink rate because you’re not straining to see the images on the screen.
If making changes to reduce eye strain doesn’t relieve your symptoms, it’s time to talk to your primary care provider about additional treatment options. Set up a video visit with one of our Mercy Health providers today.