Digital devices such as laptops, desktop computers, smartphones, and tablets now play a significant role in our lives. These devices are arguably indispensable that most of us spend a considerable amount of time using them each day whether it’s for work, education, entertainment, or socialization.

While digital devices make our lives so much easier, relying so heavily on them for both work and play leads to excessive screen time that can be detrimental to our eyes.

Prolonged exposure to screens will not really ruin your vision permanently, but it might lead to an increasingly common condition called computer vision syndrome, or digital eye strain, which can be aggravating and uncomfortable.

What is digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain is “a group of eye and vision-related problems that results from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader, and cell phone use”.

The most common symptoms associated with digital eye strain are headaches, blurred or double vision, burning or itchy eyes, and dry eyes. Along with these bothersome vision symptoms, one may also experience musculoskeletal-related problems such as pain in the neck and shoulders.

Many of the visual symptoms associated with digital eye strain are usually temporary and will decline after stopping computer work or use of the digital device. However, some people may experience continued reduced visual abilities, such as blurry distance vision, especially if they spend more than seven hours in front of a digital screen without an adequate break. This is because the eyes are not given enough time to relax and adjust. Blurry distance vision can make driving or walking difficult.

While digital eye strain does not really cause severe or long-lasting complications, it can be irritating enough that you lose the ability to concentrate at work, and you feel more fatigued in general.

What are the causes and risk factors?

Prolonged use of digital devices is the major risk factor for digital eye strain. According to the American Optometric Association, people who look at screens for two or more continuous hours in a row every day have the greatest risk of experiencing the associated symptoms. The level of discomfort also appears to increase with the amount of digital device use.

In addition to the length of time you spend using a digital device, several other factors also play a role in the development - and worsening- of digital eye strain. These include:

  • Bad lighting in the surroundings (either too bright or too dim)
  • Glare from the screen
  • Poor posture when using devices
  • Looking at devices from awkward angles
  • Reduced blinking when looking at devices
  • Uncorrected vision problems

How to prevent digital eye strain?

In today’s digital world, it is not easy and almost impossible to cut down on screen time, but these tips can help protect your eyes from excessive strain.

1. Follow the “20-20-20” Rule.

The simplest and easiest way to prevent digital eye strain is to take regular breaks away from the computer or other devices, especially if you are using them for long periods.

Here is how to take regular breaks using the “20-20-20” rule: every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds.

It would also help to take a longer break of about 15 minutes every 2 hours you spend on your devices to give your eyes enough rest.

2. Make a conscious effort to blink often.

Humans normally blink about 15 times in one minute; this is the eye’s way of getting the moisture it needs on its surface. However, according to studies, people blink less often (5 to 7 blinks a minute only) while using computers and other digital screen devices.

Making a conscious effort to blink keeps the surface of your eyes from drying out.

3. Lubricate your eyes.

If you are often in a dry, warm room, you could try using a humidifier to add moisture to the air to decrease your risk of developing a dry eye when working on a computer. You may also consider using artificial tears to refresh your eyes when they feel dry, but you will need to ask your doctor what types of drops are right for you and how often you should use them.

4. Adjust your viewing angle.

When using a computer or other electronic devices, position the screen in such a way that your eyes are looking slightly downward, not straight ahead or up. Most people find it more comfortable to view screens that way.

To achieve the best viewing angle, the center of your monitor, tablet or phone should be 20 inches to 28 inches from your eyes (about an arm’s length) and 15 to 20 degrees (about 4 inches to 5 inches) below eye level.

5. Reduce glare from your screen.

Tilt the computer screen angle to avoid glare, particularly from overhead lighting or windows. If you are working from home, you may use blinds or drapes on windows and replace the light bulbs in desk lamps with bulbs of lower wattage.

If there is no way to minimize glare from light sources, consider using a screen glare filter. These filters will reduce the amount of light reflected by your device’s screen.

6. Adjust your computer display settings

Adjust your screen brightness to match the level of light around you. The screen of your device should be as bright as your surroundings. Otherwise, your eyes will have to work harder to see.

In addition, try adjusting the contrast in such a way that images or texts do not look overly sharp or pixelated.

7. Get regular appointments with your eye doctor

Your doctor can help you prevent and even treat eye strain in a number of ways. For one, if you have an uncorrected eye problem, your doctor can help address the issue to help reduce the strain on your eyes. Common issues like astigmatism or farsightedness could make your eyes hurt, whether or not you are staring at screens.

If you are already wearing glasses or contacts, your eye doctor can also help ensure that you always have the right prescription, so you are not putting unnecessary strain on your eyes. Your eye doctor can also modify your eyeglasses prescription to create customized computer glasses for the greatest comfort.

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