You are reading this article on a screen – a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. You may be fairly adept at social media, and you regularly text your friends or kids. You’ve downloaded games to play when you’re bored. You may find yourself binging on Netflix from time to time. And if you are one of the millions of Americans who use computers every day at their workplaces, the amount of time your eyes are exposed to light coming from computer screens has increased exponentially with the proliferation of those screens themselves.
Adults now spend more than 10.5 hours on screens daily, according to Nielsen. Globally, as many as 70 million computer users are at risk for computer vision syndrome, and 70 percent to 90 percent of computer users already have one or more symptoms, according to research published in Medical Practice and Reviews.
Learn the symptoms of computer-related vision problems and how you can prevent them.
Symptoms of digital eye strain
Your eyes work harder on digital screens than they do when reading text on paper. Studies have shown that people blink up to a third less when using screens – and blinking is what distributes your tears and keeps your corneas moist and clean. When you read on your
smartphone, the tendency is to hold it closer to the eyes, which can cause eye strain as well. And in general, computer users don’t take enough breaks.
So is that headache just a regular headache, or is it related to your eyes? It can be hard to tell. The symptoms of computer-related eye strain are easy to ignore or attribute to other possible causes. But taken as a whole, they are signals that your eyes may need a break from overuse. Symptoms include:
- Dry, irritated, or burning eyes (this may be even worse in contact-lens wearers)
- Blurry vision
- Eye fatigue
- Double vision
- Headaches, including migraines
- Sensitivity to bright light
- Neck and shoulder pain
Computer strain doesn’t cause permanent vision damage; the symptoms generally ease once you’ve been away from screens for a long enough period of time. But it’s getting harder and harder to find that screen-free zone in our lives, even for 15 or 30 minutes.
Six steps you can take to prevent computer-related eye strain
- Get an eye exam. If you are a heavy computer user, you need to do this once a year.
- Reduce glare. Try to sit so that a window in the back of you doesn’t reflect directly off your computer screen. If the lighting in your office is very bright or if your screen is uncovered glass, try a matte-finish anti-glare screen filter. They are inexpensive and can make a huge difference. If there are fluorescent lights above, investigate whether they can be turned down or off completely; if there are many computer users in the same area, it may be possible.
- Adjust font size and screen brightness. There are a lot of things you can do to your own computer to help your eyes; if you’ve never explored your display preferences, ask someone to show you how. You can increase or decrease screen resolution, contrast, and background color.
- Make sure you blink or use artificial tears. Blinking is such a small, reflexive movement that it’s hard to be aware of how much you’re doing it. If your eyes are dry, have a burning sensation, or are red and irritated, try artificial tears a few times a day to see if they help.
- Consider special computer glasses. Prescription eyeglasses can improve your middle-distance vision, allowing you to sit at the recommended distance from your computer screen (25 inches or about an arm’s length) and still see type without straining.
- Take Breaks: Follow the 20/20/20 rule. For 20 seconds every 20 minutes, focus on something 20 feet away. Set your smartphone to remind you until you form the habit.
Don’t compromise on the care of your eyes.
If you are struggling with computer-related eye strain symptoms, don’t hesitate to see an optometrist or an ophthalmologist to get help. The doctors at Barnet Dulaney Perkins provide everything from annual eye exams to refractive surgery when needed. Call us at (866) 742-6581, or request an appointment online.