Electronics have become primary obsessions in our personal and work lives. This has lead to nearly everyone becoming susceptible to Computer Vision Syndrome. Symptoms include dry eyes, eye strain, blurred vision, headaches, double vision, difficulty in concentrating, fatigue and/or and head, neck and shoulder pain.
Additionally, heavy computer use has been associated with glaucoma1 Electronics screens emit blue light that can damage the retina, leading to macular degeneration.2 Close-up work is associated with myopia (nearsightedness).3
How Prevalent Is Computer Eye Syndrome?
A whooping 90% of people who use computers more than 3 hours per days experience at least one symptom of Computer Vision Syndrome.4 5 Many jobs in the United States require prolonged computer use each day, often seated at a computer workstation. A survey6 by the American Optometric Association found that 83% of children used a handheld device for a minimum of 3 hours a day. A third stared at the screen for an hour without glancing away. Their parents grossly underestimated the children’s screen time.
A Gallup poll in 20157 revealed that 52% of smartphone users check their phones at least hourly, and some many times per hour.
The younger the adult, the more often they checked.
All this screen time adds up to nearly everyone experiencing some level of Computer Vision Syndrome. An estimated 10 million visits to eye doctors each year are for treating problems related to Computer Vision Syndrome.8
The best ways to deal with Computer Vision Syndrome are to learn how to prevent it, to recognize symptoms, and to seek professional help if serious symptoms develop.
The discomfort and damage caused by screen use have several key causes. These causes are related to the technology, the environment in which these devices are used and how they are used.
Too Long Focusing Leads to Fatigue
We evolved as hunters and gatherers, depending primarily on distance vision for survival. The average American worker spends 6 hours per day doing close-up computer work.
Focusing is controlled by muscles in the eyes. Focusing too long on a near object causes these muscles to become fatigued. This leads to eye strain, headaches, blurred vision and difficulty focusing.
A special feature of screens is their composition: they are made up of tiny pixels. We aren’t aware of it, but our eyes must constantly re-focus to see the images on the screen clearly. This re-focusing on close-up objects leads to eye strain.
The screens of electronics emit blue light, which has been implicated in serious eye disease.
Blue light gets through the lens and cornea, hitting the retina. A body of research has found a link between blue light exposure and age-related macular degeneration.9 The link appears to be related to oxidative damage to the retina. Damage from exposure to blue light could be cumulative, so parents should monitor their children’s exposure.
As a general health concern, blue light at night disrupts sleep patterns and circadian rhythms. Avoiding screens 3 hours before bedtime, installing blue light filtering software, and wearing amber glasses that filter blue light10 in the evening could help.
Note: The original black-and-white Kindle screen does not emit blue light. Neither does a paper book.
Tipping the head forward and slouching puts strain on the muscles and affect the angle of vision. Lounging on soft furniture while “texting” on phones promotes poor posture, adding to pain associated with eye strain.
Too Close to the Face (Smartphones and Tablets)
The more recent prevalence of touch-screen smartphones and tablets means screens are closer to the face. This requires even more effort to focus the eyes.
Tendency for Poor Lighting
In the workplace, many companies are careful to provide proper lighting at computer workstations. Poor lighting conditions can results from screens and ambient lighting that is too bright, too dim, or incorrectly placed. Screen glare causes eye strain and discomfort.
Tablets and especially smartphones tend to be used in dim lighting such as before bedtime, upon waking, and even while watching TV in a darkened room (multi-tasking).
Blink Rate and Incomplete Blinking
The number of times per minute that people blink goes down when staring at screens. The typical at-rest blink rate is 17 blinks per minute.11 The blink rate on a computer can slow to 6-9 blinks per minute. The blink rate decrease might be because we are concentrating, or because the range of eye movement is limited. Other research has demonstrated that when we are doing anything that is focused our blink rate does slow or pause.
One recent study12 found that encouraging computer users to double their blink rate by cuing them with a chime did not help their Computer Vision Syndrome symptoms much. A stronger link was found between incomplete blinks and symptoms – the more incomplete blinks, the more symptoms.
Differences Between Paper Books and Electronic Books
While many still swear by reading a paper book, ebook readers have gone mainstream. A small research study comparing the Kindle, the iPod and hardcopy found significant differences between the three.13 Hardcopy and Kindle had the same reading rate, but the average score for tired eyes and eye discomfort was higher on the Kindle. The iPod symptoms were the same as hardcopy, but reading speed was significantly slower.
The best way to manage computer eye strain is to prevent it.
Follow the 20-20-20 Rule: Every 20 minutes that you are using a screen, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. If you are in an enclosed place, install a mirror so you can look at least 20 feet away, or get up from your desk for the break.
Minimize your screen time if at all possible.
Blink more often. Try to blink fully, so the edges of both lids touch (without squinting).
Exercise your eyes. We offer free eye exercises you can download.
Set up your computer work station properly. See our computer habits page.
Don’t look at screens when the room is dark. Turn on a light.
Beware of bad lighting. A desk lamp may be better than an overhead lamp at a computer.
Sit up when using a computer or tablet. Sit in a chair, tuck in the chin, slightly curve your neck, keep your upper back mostly straight and make a hollow in your lower back, without pushing yourself too far or stressing.
Install a glare filter on your screen. Also get glare and UV coatings on any prescription glasses you buy from the optometrist.
Teach children the symptoms of computer vision syndrome. Encourage them to take breaks from the screen and sit up properly. When they are young, strictly limit their screen time. Take away their electronics at night so they aren’t tempted to stare at a bright screen in the dark after “lights out.”
Treatments and Support for Computer Vision Syndrome
If the prevention steps are not yet working, you may need support for the symptoms.
If you are experiencing pain from eye strain, mild pain medication is a temporary fix.
Over-the-counter preservative free lubricating eye drops or homeopathic dry eye drops can help address some of the symptoms of dry eye syndrome.
Your eye doctor may prescribe stronger glasses. Also, computer glasses if you are over age 40 may be magnified or have bifocals to enlarge the screen.
Three Part Series
Next: Learn more about other Computer Eye Strain nutritional support updates and treatment options.
- http://www.naturaleyecare.com/articles/glaucoma-and-heavy-computer-use.asp ↩
- Do blue light filters confer protection against age-related macular degeneration? by Margrain TH et. al. Prog Retin Eye Res. 2004 Sep;23(5):523-31. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15302349 ↩
- “Risk factors for myopia in a discordant monozygotic twin study.” Ramessur R, Williams KM, Hammond CJ. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2015 Sep 17. doi: 10.1111/opo.12246. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26376775 ↩
- Becoming a Squinter Nation, Wall St. Journal, August 17, 2010 ↩
- Reddy, Chandrasekhara; Low (2013). “Computer vision syndrome: a study of knowledge and practices in university students”. Neoalese Journal of Ophthalmology 5 (2). ↩
- The ninth annual American Eye-Q® survey, by the AOA, created and commissioned in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB). ↩
- Most U.S. Smartphone Owners Check Phone at Least Hourly by Frank Newport. July 9, 2015 http://www.gallup.com/poll/184046/smartphone-owners-check-phone-least-hourly.aspx ↩
- www.computer-vision-syndrome.org/statistics/ ↩
- Do blue light filters confer protection against age-related macular degeneration? by Margrain TH et. al. Prog Retin Eye Res. 2004 Sep;23(5):523-31 ↩
- Amber lenses to block blue light and improve sleep: a randomized trial. Burkhart K, Phelps JR. Chronobiol Int. 2009 Dec;26(8):1602-12 ↩
- Analysis of blink rate patterns in normal subjects. Bentivoglio AR et. al. Mov Disord. 1997 Nov;12(6):1028-34. ↩
- Blink rate, incomplete blinks and computer vision syndrome. by Portello JK et. al. Optom Vis Sci. 2013 May;90(5):482-7. ↩
- Reading from electronic devices versus hardcopy text. Hue JE et. al. Work. 2014 Jan 1;47(3):303-7. ↩
- http://www.naturaleyecare.com/study.asp?s_num=253 ↩
- Oral omega-3 fatty acids treatment in computer vision syndrome related dry eye. Bhargava R et. al. Cont Lens Anterior Eye. 2015 Jun;38(3):206-10. ↩
- http://www.naturaleyecare.com/study.asp?s_num=248 ↩