Vision Strain

By Carissa M. Barina, M.D., Ophthalmologist

If you spend time in front of a computer, you’re probably familiar with the feeling of having eyes that are tired after long hours staring at a screen. You strain to see well and your head may even hurt. With the surging popularity of smaller devices with visual displays – smartphones, e-readers, tablets, etc. – it has become a more widespread problem.

This has come to be known as Computer Vision Syndrome or Digital Eye Strain. The Vision Council estimates that 70% of U.S. adults experience it in some form.

The reason for this condition is that when you are looking at a computer screen, your eyes must continuously focus, move back and forth, and align with what you are seeing. They must accommodate to changing images on the screen in order to form a clear picture for the brain to interpret.

All of these functions require a great deal of effort by the eye muscles. Doing it for a prolonged amount of time can cause fatigue, blurred vision, double vision, eye irritation and headaches.

In addition, intently focusing on computer activities causes your eyes to blink less frequently – about one-third of their normal blink rate. This contributes to evaporative tear loss, which causes dry, red eyes and blurred vision.

The good news is that there’s no evidence that computer vision syndrome causes long-term damage to the eyes. But it can certainly be a nuisance that negatively impacts your work productivity or enjoyment of computer-assisted tasks.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent and improve computer vision symptoms:

  • Lighting. Limit excessively bright sunlight or harsh interior lighting at your workstation.
  • Glare. Reduce reflections on the computer screen — adjust overhead lights, window shades, etc. – or install a glare filter over the monitor.
  • Computer settings and position. Adjust the brightness so that it is approximately the same as the ambient light at your workstation. Adjust contrast and font size on the computer until you find the best settings for your comfort. Find the optimal position for your computer monitor so it is slightly below eye level, about 20 to 28 inches away from the face. Use a monitor with a diagonal screen size of at least 19 inches set at the highest resolution.
  • 20/20/20 rule: Look away from the screen every 20 minutes or so. Either gaze out the window or scan the room and focus on a distant object about 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. This will relax the eye muscles.
  • Blink more often. Every 10 minutes or so, blink 10 times slowly. This limits dry eye and ocular discomfort and maintains visual clarity. If eye dryness/irritation is especially bad, artificial tears may be necessary to replenish moisture to the ocular surface.
  • Routine eye exams. Visit your eye doctor regularly for an exam to ensure your prescriptions are adequate. Your doctor will help determine if you need special computer glasses. These may contain a single or bifocal lens, or tinted lens material, which could help increase contrast perception and filter out glare and reflective light to reduce symptoms of eye strain.

If you think computer vision syndrome is affecting your eyes, please give us a call and we’ll be happy to set up an appointment to discuss your case.