Digital Eye Strain

What is Digital Eye Strain?

Most of us spend an enormous amount of time looking at a digital device. Chances are, you are reading this on a screen right now. 

Viewing a computer screen or digital device for long periods of time makes our eyes work harder. When the visual demands exceed the visual abilities of our eyes to comfortably perform, we experience a condition called ‘Digital Eye Strain’.

Sometimes called ‘Computer Vision Syndrome’, digital eye strain is the name for a group of eye and vision symptoms that are experienced as a result of too much exposure to screens – computers, game consoles, tablets, televisions or phones.

Screen reading differs from printed page reading. Often the type is not as clear; and there is also glare from the screen to contend with. Many individuals experience eye discomfort and vision problems when viewing digital screens for extended periods. The level of discomfort tends to increase with the amount of digital screen use.

Digital eye strain is becoming increasingly common as we rely more on our devices in our daily lives. 


What are the symptoms of digital eye strain?

Human eyes are not designed to look at digital devices for long periods of time. Discomfort is a natural outcome of ceaselessly staring at screens. Anyone who uses a computer, tablet or hand-held device for long periods of time without regular breaks may experience the symptoms of digital eye strain:

  • Eye fatigue
  • Discomfort when viewing the screen
  • Sensitivity to light and glare
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Dry, sore and irritated eyes
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Excessive tears
  • Pain in neck, shoulders or back

The causes for these symptoms can range from an uncorrected vision problem, improper viewing distances, poor posture, or environmental factors such as poor lighting and glare from the screen.

Most of the symptoms of digital eye strain are only temporary and will reduce after computer use or using a digital device.

Physical eye discomfort can occur in any healthy person, but particularly among those who use a screen for longer than two hours at a time.


What is the 20-20-20 rule?

The 20-20-20 rule is an easy reminder to take breaks from your computer to prevent eye strain.

The rule recommends that when you are looking at a digital screen to take a break of 20 seconds from looking at a screen every 20 minutes. During the 20 second break, we should focus on an object 20 feet (six metres) away to relax our eye muscles.

Some experts suggest that it is best to look out a window during the 20 second breaks. Others recommend simply closing your eyes for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.


What are the problems with extended screen time during lockdown?

Even before the pandemic and ‘Zoom-fatigue’ became a thing, the abundance of screen time was a concern for a growing number of eye doctors and eye care professionals.

Ongoing lockdowns have fundamentally changed our relationship with digital screens – almost everyone is spending more time online than ever before, whether that be for work, school, to shop, exercise or to stay in touch with friends and family – the list is almost endless.  

It’s important to remember that adults aren’t alone in experiencing digital eye strain. Like never before, children and young people are spending more time inside  looking at their screens. Home-learning has only compounded the problem.

 Although many adults will readily embrace simple precautions like walking away from the screen when fatigued, children tend to push through until their eyes are irritated and they get a headache.

Parents tasked with home-learning need to remember to help their children regulate their screen time, encourage them to take periodic tech-breaks and to schedule time outside each day. 

In these times of routine prolonged screen exposure, it’s important to schedule a comprehensive eye exam with your local eye doctor (optometrist), especially if you haven’t had one in the last two years. Your eye doctor (optometrist) can discuss your screen use and ensure that your symptoms are addressed.

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