DIGITAL EYE STRAIN / COMPUTER VISION SYNDROME
Dr K Kavitha Lakshmi
Eyestrain is a common condition that occurs when your eyes get tired from intense use, such as while driving long distances or staring at computer screens and other digital devices.
Eyestrain can be annoying. But it usually isn’t serious and goes away once you rest your eyes or take other steps to reduce your eye discomfort. In some cases, signs and symptoms of eyestrain can indicate an underlying eye condition that needs treatment.
Eyestrain signs and symptoms include:
- Sore, tired, burning or itching eyes
- Watery or dry eyes
- Blurred or double vision
- Sore neck, shoulders or back
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling that you cannot keep your eyes open
Common causes of eyestrain include:
- Looking at digital device screens
- Reading without pausing to rest your eyes
- Driving long distances and doing other activities involving extended focus
- Being exposed to bright light or glare
- Straining to see in very dim light
- Having an underlying eye problem, such as dry eyes or uncorrected vision (refractive error)
- Being stressed or fatigued
- Being exposed to dry moving air from a fan, heating or air-conditioning system
Computer and digital device use
Extended use of computers and other digital devices is one of the most common causes of eyestrain. We call this computer vision syndrome, or digital eyestrain. People who look at screens two or more hours in a row every day have the greatest risk of this condition.
Computer use strains eyes more than reading print material because people tend to:
- Blink less while using computers (blinking is key to moistening the eyes)
- View digital screens at less than ideal distances or angles
- Use devices that have glare or reflection
- Use devices with poor contrast between the text and the background
In some cases, an underlying eye problem, such as eye muscle imbalance or uncorrected vision, can cause or worsen computer eyestrain.
Some other factors that can make the condition worse include:
- Glare on your screen
- Poor posture
- Setup of your computer workstation
- Circulating air, such as from air conditioning or a nearby fan
Blue light exposure you receive from screens is small compared to the amount of exposure from the sun. And yet, there is concern over the long-term effects of screen exposure because of the close proximity of the screens and the length of time spent looking at them. According to a recent study, children’s eyes absorb more blue light than adults from digital device screens.
The 20-20-20 rule
If you find yourself gazing at screens for more than 2 hours a day, we suggest you to follow this rule.. Basically, every 20 minutes spent using a screen, you should try to look away at something that is 20 feet away from you for a total of 20 seconds.
Unless you have a tape measure you probably won’t be able to accurately measure 20 feet. Being exact isn’t the key. You should just try to focus on something far away from you. Consider looking out a window at an object that seems far away, like a tree or a building across the street. If you work in a small space, try walking outdoors or into a larger area where you can rest your eyes.
setting a timed reminder to pop up can help you take a break every 20 minutes. There are also free apps like Eye Care 20 20 20 that can help. Just click start when you begin your screen time, and the app will remind you.
Other ways to prevent eye strain
Want to avoid eye strain? Whenever you sit down to look at a screen, remember to follow these ergonomic eye tips.
- Sit farther away from your computer screen. A good rule is to be at least 25 inches, or roughly an arm’s length, away. While you’re at it, move the screen so you have to look slightly downward at the screen.
- Consider using a matte screen filter to reduce your screen’s glare.
- Buy some artificial tears at your local drugstore to use when your eyes feel dry. A humidifier can also help.
- Blink often to help replenish your eye’s own tears.
- Dim your screen if it’s much brighter than the rest of the light in the area. You could also adjust the room lighting so the contrast is lessened.
- Keep your screens clean. Dirty screens with fingerprints and other debris can strain your eyes even more.
If you wear contact lenses, you may experience worsened symptoms of dryness and irritation. Try giving your eyes a break from time to time by wearing glasses.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if self-care steps don’t relieve your eyestrain.