What is Digital Eye Strain and How to Prevent It

by John Mortensen

What is Digital Eye Strain and How to Prevent It

What is Digital Eye Strain and How to Prevent It

We use digital screens every day from checking texts and social media on our smartphones, using computers at work, watching television, and reading on our tablets and e-reader devices.

According to The Vision Council, approximately 80% of American adults use digital technology for more than 2 hours a day. Even our children are on screens every day, both at school and at home.

Unfortunately, for some of us, the constant use of various digital screens can strain our eyes, leading to symptoms of digital eye strain.

What Is Digital Eye Strain?

The prolonged use of electronic screens, including smartphones, computers, tablets, and e-readers that can lead to digital eye strain. This condition, also called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), refers to a group of eye and vision problems.

The problems arise because the use of the digital screen overtaxes a person’s near vision. When using a digital screen, your eyes are having to focus and refocus repeatedly and deal with glare, flicker, and contrast. The screen might also have a variety of moving images, requiring your eyes to shift focus. All this activity is demanding on your eye muscles.

Who Is At Risk?

Who's at Risk for Digital Eye Strain

Anyone who uses digital devices for an extended period is at risk for developing digital eye strain, including children and teens.

You are more vulnerable to digital eye strain if:

  • You are over 40 years old since your eyes’ lenses become less flexible around this age,
  • You have existing eye problems that aren’t corrected,
  • You are using the wrong type of prescription for computer work,
  • You have an underlying problem that causes dry eyes,
  • You use digital screens for extended periods (such as several hours),
  • You don’t take periodic breaks from using digital screens.

What Are the Symptoms?

The most common symptoms include:

  • Eye fatigue
  • Dry eyes
  • Headaches
  • Eye irritation
  • Pain in your neck or shoulders
  • Blurred vision

Fortunately, most of these symptoms are temporary and will fade after you quit using the device. However, for some people, symptoms can persist or get worse. If symptoms remain after taking a break from using digital devices, you may want to consult with an eye doctor.

Whether symptoms are temporary or persist, digital eye strain can negatively impact your work productivity. Once symptoms start, it can be harder to focus on your job or task. You also may find yourself working slower due to the discomfort.

What Causes Digital Eye Strain?

 What Causes Digital Eye Strain?

Using electronic devices is not the same for our eyes as reading a book or viewing our daily environment. Digital screens cause our eyes to have to focus and refocus repeatedly on up-close objects, which is a work out for our eye muscles. Unlike a book, screens emit light and can have glare, which can tax our eyes.

Some of the causes of digital eye strain include:

Decreased blinking.

When we stare at any kind of screen, we blink less often than when looking at people or our environment. Research has also suggested that we may not blink as completely when using digital screens as compared to reading. But why does this matter?

Blinking is essential for maintaining good eye health. When we don’t blink enough, our eyes become uncomfortable and dry. As a result, our vision can become blurred. Additionally, blinking helps clean the surface of our eyes by washing away debris with fresh tears. Blinking also helps nourish our eyes with oxygen.

Therefore, when we don’t blink enough, our eyes are more prone to become irritated, red, and dry.

Excessive glare.

Our eyes aren’t made to look at light for long periods. Additionally, overhead lights and light from windows can cause a glare on digital screens, which can make your eyes have to work harder and cause them to tire out.

Some of the causes of digital eye strain

Squinting at small text.

When you squint, your neck, shoulder, and facial muscles tighten. This tension can contribute to headaches and muscle aches, and may even cause you to maintain poor posture as you try to adjust to the discomfort. Additionally, as you squint, your eyes become fatigued and your vision can blur.

Poor posture when using a smartphone or a computer.

Ergonomics matter when using digital devices, especially if you’re using them for long periods. When we slump, tilt our heads at unusual angles, or hold our smartphones too close, we are causing problems with our alignment. This can contribute to the neck, back, and shoulder tension.

If not addressed, this can cause pain and long term problems with our neck, shoulders, and back due to repetitive use.

When using poor posture or alignment, you may hold your phone too close or sit too close to your computer screen, which can add additional strain on your eyes. You may also view the screens at unusual angles, such as bending forward or tilting your head for long periods. This can increase the pain in your neck or shoulders as well as cause your eyes to work harder.

Uncorrected vision problems or using the wrong type of eye correction.

Uncorrected or undercorrected vision problems can significantly add to digital eye strain since your eyes are already overtaxed. Now, they have to work even harder and are more prone to difficulties focusing due to vision problems.

Even if you have corrected vision, you may not have the right glasses for digital and computer work.

How Do You Prevent Digital Eye Strain?

Fortunately, you don’t need to avoid using your smartphone, computer, or tablets to prevent digital eye strain. You can help avoid computer-related vision problems by implementing simple strategies into your routine when using digital screens, especially when looking at them for extended periods.

1. Use the 20-20-20 rule.

After using any digital screen for around 20 minutes, look away from the screen at something else about 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This strategy gives your eyes a break from the up-close work of the screen. During this time, be sure to blink completely and often to help refresh your eyes.

2. Purposefully blink when using digital screens.

Since people are prone to blink less frequently and less completely when using devices, start training yourself to blink more regularly when using a digital device. The blinking will help nourish your eyes and keep them from getting dry and irritated. Your eyes will feel more refreshed.

3. Keep devices about an arm’s length away.

Keep devices about an arm’s length away

When digital screens are too close to your face, it can make your eyes work harder. Therefore, keep your screens about an arm’s length away.

4. Increase text size.

While smartphone screens have become larger with newer models, often, the text on the screen can be small. You may find yourself moving your phone around to try and focus on the words or squinting your eyes to read the tiny print. To avoid this and to help prevent eye strain, adjust the text size on your device so your eyes can focus easier.

5. Take actions to minimize glare on screens.

If you tend to use digital screens in harsh overhead light, it can add a glare to your screen. If possible, use dimmers or lamps to help reduce the glare. If you can’t change the light or where your device is located, you could look into adding a screen cover that helps reduce glare.

Another option is to use special eyeglasses with lenses designed to help reduce glare, blue-light from digital screens, and help your eyes focus on screens even if you don’t need vision correction. However, talk to an eye doctor first before buying such devices to ensure they are the right choice for you.

6. Adjust the brightness on your digital screens.

You don’t have to use the preset brightness settings on your smartphone, tablet, or computer screen. If your phone is too bright or too dim, you can manually adjust the level to your needs.

You may find this isn’t something you do once and then never change. You may need to adjust the brightness to different levels depending on where and what time of day you are using your device.

7. Use proper ergonomics when using digital devices.

Whether you’re using your smartphone or a computer, having proper posture and is important to preventing neck, shoulder, and back pain. You don’t want to be staring up at a screen or looking too far down at it. Ideally, you want the screen at eye level. Many people find looking slightly downward at the screen can be the most comfortable.

However, if you’re using a smartphone, sometimes people tend to look down too far, which can cause a strain on their neck. So if you find you’re neck or shoulders are uncomfortable after using your phone, try raising the height that you hold your phone to keep your neck and spine in better alignment.

8. Get regular eye exams.

Get Regular Eye Exams

When you go to your eye doctor for an exam, be sure to talk to the doctor about your digital screen use, even if you aren’t having problems with digital eye strain. By understanding how frequently you use digital devices and the types you use, your eye doctor can ensure you have the proper eyeglasses and solutions to keep your eyes healthy and minimize digital eye strain.

Use Your Digital Devices Smartly to Keep Your Eyes Healthy

Smartphones, computers, and tablets are a critical part of today’s world and lifestyle. Most adults use digital devices throughout their day for work and in their personal lives. Even children are using these devices at school and at home.

While these digital devices are useful, it’s also important to use them wisely. Fortunately, by incorporating simple strategies and routines, such as taking regular screen breaks, you can use these digital devices and avoid problems such as digital eye strain.

Use Your Digital Devices Smartly to Keep Your Eyes Healthy

The Story of the Smartphone

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John Mortensen
John Mortensen


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