If you are reading this on your computer right now, you may be among a rapidly increasing number of Americans who suffer from digital eye strain.
According to The Vision Council, which claims credit for coining the term “digital eye strain,” more than 83 percent of people in the United States use digital devices for more than two hours a day. All that prolonged use of computers, smart phones, e-readers, and tablets can add up to a lot of strained eyes.
In the Vision Council’s survey, more than 60 percent of the people who are using computers for two hours or more report symptoms of digital eye strain, also called computer vision syndrome. With the average worker spending seven hours a day on a computer, the condition may be even more widespread than that.
For many of us, the symptoms might be familiar:
Eye fatigue or “tired” eyes
Dry, itchy, or irritated eyes
Blurry or double vision
Neck, shoulder, or back pain
How does digital eye strain happen?
Blue light is emitted in large quantities from computer screens, smart phones, flat screen TVs and other digital devices. Since blue light is everywhere and sunlight is the main source of blue light, the added exposure of staring at digital devices all day can be dangerous for our eyes. When we stare at screens, we don't blink as often as we do when we look at other objects. The lack of blinking damages and dries out our eyes.
Eye strain is caused by excessive bright light. You can either eliminate exterior light by closing shades or blinds, or you can reduce interior light by turning down or eliminating overhead fluorescent lights. Consider using an anti-glare computer screen and upgrade your computer screen to an LCD screen, which usually has an anti-reflective surface. You can also adjust the brightness of your screen, make the text and size contrast larger, and reduce the color temperature of your display to lessen the amount of blue light emitted by your screen.
You can experience neck and back problems from tilting your head at an odd angle or slumping over because glare or poor lighting are marring your vision -- or you’re wearing glasses not designed for the computer. According to the AOA, you should take a good look at how you position yourself in front of your computer. Your computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level. Your reference materials should also be below eye level, and your chair should be adjusted so that your feet are flat on the floor.
Treating Digital Eye Strain
Dr. Schmidt has a multi-pronged approach to treating this form of eye strain. She will often prescribe digital lenses with a special coating that filters out the kind of blue light that’s emitted from screens. For people with dry eyes, she can prescribe lubricant eye drops, supplements, and eyelid treatments. For patients who wear contact lenses, she will make sure to offer brands that provide the most lubrication, comfort and maximum wearing time.
Dr. Schmidt will also take time to address any underlying vision issues that can be exacerbated by extensive screen time. This includes any vision disorder that puts heavy stress on the eye muscles, such as binocular vision disorder, where the line of sight of one eye is slightly out of alignment with the line of sight from the other eye.
The AOA has numerous recommendations for avoiding digital eye strain, including something called the 20-20-20 rule: when you’re on the computer, take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes. The AOA notes that the symptoms will vary based on how much time you spend looking at screens and what vision problems you already have, such as farsightedness, astigmatism, or presbyopia.
The good news is that often the symptoms are temporary and will subside once you walk away from the computer. Still, it’s wise to take steps to ensure that digital eye strain doesn’t lead to continued problems for your eyes, neck, and back.