If you frequently use a computer, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced computer vision syndrome. This is a type of eye strain that’s caused by prolonged use of digital screens.
Among other symptoms, computer vision syndrome can cause:
- eye fatigue
- dry eyes
Experiencing computer vision syndrome doesn’t mean you need to completely give up your screen time, though. The way you view a digital screen can make a big difference.
What is computer vision syndrome?
Computer vision syndrome, also known as digital eye strain or computer eye strain, is a condition that can cause specific vision and eye problems, such as:
- eye strain
- eye fatigue
- blurry vision
- double vision
- dry eyes
- itchy, red, or tearing eyes
- neck pain
- shoulder pain
It’s caused by focusing on a digital screen for a long time. This includes digital screens on devices like:
When you look at a digital screen, your eyes need to work harder to focus. That’s because the text on digital screens isn’t as sharp as the words on a printed page.
Also, digital screens are prone to having glare, making it even harder for your eyes to focus properly. You’re more likely to develop computer vision syndrome if you view a digital screen for 2 or more hours in a row.
Other risk factors for digital eye strain include:
- looking at a digital screen every day
- poor lighting
- a glare or reflection on a digital screen
- uncorrected vision issues (like farsightedness or astigmatism)
- incorrect prescription eyeglasses
- incorrect viewing distance or angle
- poor posture while sitting
Your symptoms may be more severe if you regularly use digital screens for many hours a day, or already have an underlying eye condition.
How to ease digital eye strain:
You may be able to reduce or prevent eye strain by changing the way you use digital screens. Here are some tips that may help protect your eyes from strain and discomfort.
1. Adjust your computer
Position your computer screen 20 to 28 inches from your eyes. Sitting too close to a digital screen can increase your risk of eye strain.
Place the screen slightly below eye level, about 4 to 5 inches. Tilt the top of the screen back about 10 to 20 degrees. Make sure you’re not tilting your neck upward or downward to see the screen.
You can also make the text and images more visible and easier to read by increasing the contrast, brightness, and font size on your device.
2. Blink frequently
Blinking helps prevent your eyes from drying out by spreading moisture and mucus across your eyes. If you don’t blink often enough, it can cause your eyes to become dry and irritated.
Looking at a computer or digital screen may cause you to blink less often than you should. In fact, according to the University of Iowa, you blink 66 percent less while on a computer.
Try to remember to blink often when using a computer or other digital device, and take regular breaks from your screen to give your eyes a rest.
3. Reduce screen glare
Screen glare happens when light is reflected off your screen. The light often comes from overhead lighting fixtures or nearby windows.
Try to reduce or eliminate glare by:
- closing blinds, shades, or curtains on windows to reduce or minimize screen glare
- using lower wattage light bulbs
- dimming overhead lights
- adding a screen glare filter to your computer
4. Use the right eyeglasses
If you wear eyeglasses, make sure your prescription is correct. Wearing the wrong prescription can make it difficult for your eyes to focus correctly. This can increase your risk for eye strain and headaches.
If your glasses are for distance, reading, or both, you may need a new prescription just for viewing digital screens.
5. Adjust your posture
Poor posture can increase your risk of eye strain. That’s why it’s important to design your workspace in a way that promotes good posture while you’re sitting in front of your computer.
When sitting in front of your computer or other digital screen, keep these tips in mind for good posture:
- Sit up straight with your ears aligned over your shoulders. Avoid letting your head and neck lean forward.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed. Avoid hunching or slouching forward.
- Position your computer screen slightly below eye level. Make sure you don’t have to tilt your head up or down or lean forward to see the screen clearly.
- Use a chair with the right height. Try to keep your feet flat on the floor, with your knees level or slightly higher than your hips.
- Use a chair with good back support. Try to sit back and feel that the back of the chair supports your spine.
6. Take regular breaks
A major risk factor for computer vision syndrome is continuous use of a digital screen.
To minimize your risk, take routine breaks:
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule. The 20-20-20 rule can help your eyes refocus and rest. Look at something 20 feet away, for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes.
- Rest for 15 minutes. After 2 hours of continuous screen use, rest your eyes for 15 minutes. Move away from your computer and focus on objects that are closer and further away than your digital screen.
- Do non-screen tasks. During each break, avoid looking at another digital screen. Try doing non-screen tasks like organizing paperwork or taking a walk.
7. Use eye drops
Lubricating eye drops are designed to keep your eyes moisturized. You can buy several types of lubricating eye drops over-the-counter (OTC) that may help reduce dry eye symptoms.
If your eyes still feel dry or irritated after trying OTC drops, ask your eye doctor for a prescription product.
When to call a doctor:
In many cases, computer vision syndrome may go away or be less of an issue if you reduce your digital screen time. The lifestyle changes mentioned above may also help ease or prevent symptoms.
However, if your symptoms persist or get worse, call or visit an eye doctor. Also contact your eye doctor if you have:
- sudden vision changes
- eye flashes
- unexplained eye pain or redness that doesn’t go away
- dry eyes that don’t get better with eye drops
These symptoms may be signs of some other underlying vision issue or health condition.
For computer vision syndrome, your doctor may prescribe eyeglasses specifically for computer use. They might also suggest visual training, also called vision therapy, or a specific brand of eye drops.
Computer vision syndrome commonly affects people who use digital screens for long periods of time. It can cause a range of symptoms, including:
- eye fatigue
- dry eyes
- blurry vision
To prevent digital eye strain, rest your eyes for 15 minutes after using the computer for 2 hours. Adjust your screen and workspace to reduce glare. Blink often and use lubricating eye drops to moisturize your eyes.
If you wear eyeglasses, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor each year to ensure your prescription is correct. Talk with your eye doctor if your eye strain symptoms persist or get worse.