Preventing Computer Vision Syndrome

Keep an eye on your vision during continuous use of screen time to ease eye strain.

Reviewed by: Eileen Bowden, MD
Written by: Kaylee Fang

Blog social thumb Preventing Computer Vision Syndrome

It’s unlikely that you are able to unplug from digital devices during work, school, or while attending events or activities. However, it may be easier to limit yourself to a few minutes of amusing cat videos or scrolling through the latest memes. We realize it can be challenging to put away your device so we enlisted, Eileen Bowden, MD, ophthalmologist in Mitchel and Shannon Wong Eye Institute, to advise us on how to prevent frequent use of digital devices from getting in the way of healthy vision.

Computer Vision Syndrome

Computer vision syndrome or also known as digital eye strain is a group of eye and vision-related conditions that result from using computers, tablets, e-readers, cell phones, and other electronic devices extensively. It’s a common condition that occurs when the visual demands of a task exceed the visual abilities of an individual to perform comfortably.

Symptoms

Individuals experience computer vision syndrome in numerous ways. Symptoms can vary depending on the amount of time you spend on digital devices. The most common symptoms Dr. Bowden sees in patients are:

  • Eye or eyelid heaviness
  • Difficulty keeping eyes open
  • Eye strain
  • Headaches
  • Blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dry Eyes

Causes

Eye strain is caused by intensely focusing your eyes during a task. Therefore, looking at a digital screen can make your eyes work harder. A combination of these factors includes:

Glare on a digital screen. Viewing a digital screen affects your eyes differently than reading a printed page. The pixels displayed on a screen are more likely to cause discomfort for your eyes.

“The contrast is not quite as sharp, crisp, or as deep when you’re looking at a screen compared to when you’re looking at paper,” describes Dr. Bowden.

Also, the presence of glare and reflections can be difficult for the eyes because of the minimal contrast of light between the words and the background. This can cause sensitivity to light in your eyes.

Viewing distance. The distance between the device and your eyes can strain the visual system. Your eyes may move rapidly or focus more intensely which causes discomfort. Corrective lens wearers may find it challenging to determine the proper distance for viewing the screen. For example, you may tilt your head at certain angles to adjust for a better view. You may also tend to lean toward the screen to see clearly.

Uncorrected vision problems. Uncorrected or under-corrected vision problems can be a major cause of eyestrain. Minor vision problems can even impact your comfort and performance while using digital devices.

Risk Factors

Computer vision syndrome can affect anyone, regardless of age. “I’ve seen patients come in with computer vision syndrome who are young and healthy, so it really depends on screen time,” explains Dr. Bowden.

Individuals who are at higher risk:

  • Spend 2 or more continuous hours looking at a screen daily
  • Experience dry eye symptoms
  • Have undergone LASIK surgery

Prevention tips

It may be challenging to step away from a screen for work or school-related activities. Keep these tips in mind to ease eye strain:

Adjust lighting

Make sure the area where you’re working is not too dim to help prevent reflection. If you have windows in your room, consider closing the blinds. Switch to lower-watt bulbs in your lamps and overhead lighting.

“If it’s not possible to adjust the lighting in your environment, place tinted or antiglare screens on your devices,” suggests Dr. Bowden.”

Follow the 20-20-20 rule

“The most efficient way to limit computer vision syndrome symptoms is to take frequent breaks from your device,” advises Dr. Bowden.

For every 20 minutes, step away from your digital device. Take 20 seconds to rest, close your eyes, or look 20 feet away into the horizon. When you’re looking at the screen, you’re activating muscles inside of the eyes that help them focus up close. Give those muscles a break to prevent fatigue of the eyes. In general, rest your eyes for 15 minutes after 2 continuous hours of digital use.

Blink Consistently

You might not be blinking as much as you should when looking at a digital device because you’re so focused on doing the task at hand. This can lead to dry eye symptoms. Blinking helps bring tears over the surface of the eyes and lubricate the eyes. Be mindful that blinking is necessary while completing tasks in front of a screen.

Adjust viewing angle

Optimize the location of your digital device to create a comfortable setup. For tablets and phones, try to hold the device 20-28 inches from your eyes and 4-5 inches below eye level. The best angle for a computer monitor is in the center of your body.

“Place your screen an arm’s length away,” recommends Dr. Bowden. Avoid leaning close to the screen.

Consult with an ophthalmologist

Consider scheduling a comprehensive eye exam if you’re concerned or notice symptoms are getting worse.

“An eye exam can check for any uncorrected refractive errors, also known as the need for eyeglasses or change of prescription,” explains Dr. Bowden.

An ophthalmologist can help determine whether corrective lenses or other options are the best fit for you.

Fact vs. Myth

Do blue light glasses really help?

“A recent study showed there is little evidence of the blue light blocking glasses preventing eye strain,” says Dr. Bowden, “but it’s possible they can help regulate your sleep schedule.” It can be difficult to get a good night’s sleep because the blue light that emits from electronics can interfere with your circadian rhythm. In this case, getting a pair of these glasses would be beneficial for those who are prone to scrolling on their phone at bedtime.

“If you’re experiencing light sensitivity or migraines, you may benefit from a type of tint in your glasses called FL 41,” recommends Dr. Bowden. The pink to amber color tint on glasses filter out colors that cause individuals who have migraines caused by extensive use of electronics.

Does computer vision syndrome affect work productivity?

“There are a few patients who have trouble focusing after a few hours at the computer,” explains Dr. Bowden, “so certainly it could influence how much you can get done.” The best way to work around this is to take breaks throughout the day to prevent burning out early.

Although the digital-focused world favors screen time from the moment you wake up until you go to bed, be mindful of how much time you spend on these devices. Streaming movies and checking emails can wait when it comes to healthy vision.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.