Are you familiar with computer vision syndrome? You should be — because you might be experiencing it. In an age dominated by computers, it seems nearly impossible to completely avoid eye strain and all its related symptoms.
Of course, advances in computer technology have brought countless amazing experiences to your life. Thanks to laptops, tablets, and smartphones, you’re constantly connected to those you love. And you can shop, learn, and even run a business from the comfort of your couch.
Trouble is… your eyes weren’t designed to look at digital screens all day, every day.
Digital screens make your eyes work harder. Often the letters are not well-defined, and the glare can lead to irritated eyes.
So though progress is great, it can bring with it a whole new set of issues. Let’s explore the relatively new condition known as computer vision syndrome.
What Exactly Is Computer Vision Syndrome?
Computer vision syndrome, or digital eye strain, encompasses a group of vision issues that result from the prolonged use of digital items – be it your e-reader, smartphone, or desktop computer. These symptoms manifest primarily as:
- Blurred vision
- Gritty, dry, or red eyes
- Eyestrain (aching, tired eyes)
- Shoulder, back, or neck pain1
It’s not surprising that so many people suffer from computer vision syndrome.
Adults in the U.S. dedicate an estimated 8 hours and 47 minutes each day to consuming visual media!
This statistic includes time spent on tablets, smartphones, personal computers, multimedia devices, video games, DVDs, DVRs, and TVs.2
What Causes Computer Vision Syndrome?
What is it about digital devices that creates eye problems? And why do some people seem to suffer far worse from this condition?
Here are some of the reasons why digital screens can be so bad for your eyes:
- Digital screens make your eyes work harder. Letters and images are not as defined, and contrast is often low on digital devices.
- Screen lighting can be poor, because it’s either too bright or too dull for your eyes.
- Digital screens can give off a lot of glare.
- Many people sit closer than necessary to digital screens. This can place greater demands on the ability of the eyes to focus.
- Bad posture can occur from scooting too close to a screen, which then creates related neck and shoulder issues.
- Most people don’t take sufficient breaks from eye-to-screen contact. This doesn’t give the eyes enough of a break.
- Underlying, uncorrected vision problems can exacerbate eye strain.3
Uncorrected Vision Problems and Computer Vision Syndrome
As it turns out, uncorrected vision problems really can increase the severity of computer vision syndrome. It’s often why two similar people can have such differing symptoms.
Uncorrected vision problems are eye issues that haven’t been diagnosed or corrected. These can include farsightedness, astigmatism, focusing or eye coordination conditions, and even the changes that come with aging.
So even if you know your eye issues and diligently wear your glasses or contact lenses, you’re still not protected from computer vision syndrome. This is because a prescription that works great outside or when reading a book may not be ideal for a digital device.
How Is Computer Vision Syndrome Treated?
Computer vision syndrome and its symptoms can become so bad for some people, they’re only able to use digital devices for short periods. But, let’s be honest, no one can completely cut all digital screens from their life. So, what can you do if you’re suffering from screen-related eye symptoms?
The best place to start is to learn how to use a screen the right way.4
1. Correctly Set Up Your Workstation
The optimal position for a desk computer or laptop is with the screen 20 to 24 inches from your eyes. It should also be slightly downward of your eyes – 15 to 20 degrees (approx. 4 inches) below your eye line is seen as a comfortable position.
You’ll also want to adjust your chair to the right height, so that your feet are flat on the floor, with your thighs parallel to the floor. Elbows should be bent at around 90-100 degrees for comfortable typing.
Looking back and forth between a printed page and a computer screen can cause eye strain, so prop any written materials up on a stand next to the monitor, and ensure that it’s well lit. You should only have to move your head slightly to go between the two.
2. Adjust Room Lighting
When you use a computer, you don’t want your inside lighting to be too bright – and certainly not the wattage found in most offices. Soft lighting is the aim here. Replace light bulbs with a lower wattage if necessary.
Try to position your screen so that outside windows are not directly in front of or behind it. Sunlight can make indoor lighting too bright around your screen, or contribute to glare.
3. Minimize Glare
With bright light comes glare – whether from the room that you’re in, or from the screen itself. This can cause eye strain.
Cover bright windows, face away from white-reflecting walls, and consider investing in an anti-glare screen cover for your computer. You may also find comfort from an anti-reflective (AR) coating on your glasses or contact lenses.
4. Consider a Computer Upgrade
Many newer computer screens are made with LCD displays. LCD screens are much easier on the eyes – they have an anti-reflective surface, and background images no longer flicker.
Go for the highest resolution possible on your screen, so that images are at their sharpest. And, if possible, go for the largest display (screen size).
5. Understand Your Computer’s Display Settings
Your computer has some key settings that, when used correctly, might help ease eye strain. Let’s take a look at a few key ones:
- Brightness should always be set at the same level as your surrounding area. Your screen shouldn’t look dull or grey, nor should it appear overly bright. Shoot for somewhere in-between.
- Text Size should be large enough that you can comfortably read without squinting.
- Text Contrast can be adjusted to make writing and images easier to see. The higher the contrast, the more distinct the text will appear.
- Color Temperature is whether your screen leans towards bluer or more orange tones.
Digital screens naturally emit something called “blue light.” In recent years, blue light has become associated with eye strain and hindering the production of melatonin, which affects your sleep cycle.5 This is why you should never scroll through devices right before bed.
Changing the color of your screen through the use of apps, screen covers, or a built-in temperature adjuster allows you to toggle your screen “temperature” into the orange end of the spectrum, which will be more comfortable on your eyes.
6. Proper Eye Care Is Important
Talk to your eye doctor about your eye health and what you can do to help your eyes work optimally with computer use.
Your current eyeglass prescription may be ideal for outside use but not for a computer screen. Your eye doctor may suggest a different prescription to better fit the visual demands of a digital screen.
7. Remember to Blink and Take a Break
One of the best ways to avoid computer vision syndrome is to take regular breaks away from digital screens. This means you should walk away from your desk computer for a bit several times each day. It doesn’t mean you should immediately reach for your smartphone!
The American Optometric Association suggests a “20-20-20 rule” to help prevent eye strain:
Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes, and look at something 20 feet in the distance.
Looking away helps to relax the “focusing muscle” inside your eye – which helps to fight eye fatigue. You should also rest your eyes for 15 minutes for every two hours of continuous screen time.
Blinking is also a great “mini-rest,” as it helps ward off dry eye by keeping your eyes moist. Think of blinking as nature’s eye drops! Try to consciously blink more often when you’re at your screen. Or, if your eyes are particularly dry, you can also use eye drops.
It’s Time to Consider Your Eye Health
If you find yourself suffering the symptoms of computer vision syndrome, including having dry or irritated eyes, you’re going to want to address the problem now. Digital eye strain will only worsen over time, to the point where you may not be able to work properly.
If you wear glasses or contact lenses, speak to your optometrist about the best eyewear for using a computer – especially if you sit at a screen for work all day. If you don’t wear glasses or contacts, it might be time for an eye exam.
The discomfort of digital eye strain isn’t something you just have to grin and bear in the digital age. Take care of the problem now, and you’ll be able to enjoy plenty of digital screen time for years to come!
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2.https://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/reports-downloads/2016-reports/total-audience-report-q1-2016.pdf (Page 4)