One day after Sarah Hinkley had been working on her computer for
about five hours, she noticed her eyes started to burn and feel dry.
"My focus became blurry, like I was looking through a haze," she says.
an optometrist, Hinkley knew exactly what was wrong. She was suffering
from digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome.
becoming a widespread problem as more people spend hours each day
looking at computers, cellphones, iPads, tablets and other electronic
devices, says Hinkley, a spokeswoman for the American Optometric
Association and an associate professor at the Ferris State University
Michigan College of Optometry. "It is rampant, especially as we move
toward smaller devices and the prominence of devices increase in our
In fact, almost 70% of U.S. adults say they have experienced some of
the symptoms of digital eye strain, according to a survey conducted for
the Vision Council, a trade group for vision care products and services.
About 60% of respondents say they spend at least six hours looking at
The problem is starting to occur more frequently in
kids, Hinkley says. "As children acquire cellphones at younger ages
and are using them more frequently during the day, we are seeing the
symptoms presenting in younger children more than we have before."
symptoms may include dry, red and irritated eyes, fatigue, eye strain,
blurry vision, problems focusing, headaches, neck and shoulder pain and
possibly even words moving on the screen because of underlying eye
alignment issues, which are binocular vision (how the eyes work
together) problems, she says. The latter is not as common as dry eyes,
eye strain and blurry vision.
There are some people who can use a computer for hours without any
issues, but others who have an underlying dry eye issue may be bothered
by symptoms after 10 minutes on the computer, she says. The syndrome
causes discomfort but doesn't typically cause vision loss or any
permanent damage, Hinkley says.
Brooklyn optometrist Justin Bazan,
a consultant to the Vision Council, says some research suggests the
blue light (high-energy visible light) emitted by screens could lead to
age-related macular degeneration. Studies of pig eyes show blue light
damages the cells of the retina, he says.
He suggests using a pair
of computer glasses that use specifically treated lens to block the
potentially damaging blue light. "This is something I recommend and
prescribe for my patients," he says. These glasses are different from
others prescribed for other daily activities. The standard
anti-reflective coatings do not help prevent the blue light damage, he
James Sheedy, a professor at Pacific University College of
Optometry, says that although blue light can damage the retina, the
radiation from digital devices is much less than any daylight outdoor
environment. Sunglass protection outdoors is much more important.
says there is some research evidence that blue light may contribute to
macular degeneration development, but further investigation is needed to
explore any connection with screen use.
In the meantime, there are several approaches to treatment for
digital eye strain, Hinkley says. The primary ones are to limit screen
time and/or take frequent breaks. Some people use artificial tear
solutions or other treatments for dryness, and others may need vision
therapy including focusing therapy if they have underlying issues with
their focusing or binocular vision systems. Some people need to train
themselves to blink more often, she says.
Digital eye strain can
be exacerbated in adults who wear prescription eyewear because sometimes
bifocals and progressive lenses are not ergonomically suited for
reading on the computer, she says. Anyone with symptoms of the problem
should make sure their glasses are optimal for computer work, Hinkley
says. They may need glasses with computer lenses or occupation lenses
that work well when they are sitting at the computer.
recommends indirect lighting on the monitor rather than a lamp pointing
at the screen that may create glare. If your monitor faces a window,
you should have it an angle to reduce glare.
Some businesses hire
an optometrist to check the work-station ergonomics of their employees
to make sure they are set up for visual efficiency and comfort, Hinkley
The Vision Council's medical advisory board offers these tips to prevent or lessen digital eye strain:
Take a 20-20-20 break: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away.
•Adjust the brightness of your device. Consider changing your background color from bright white to cool gray.
•Adjust your screen so it is directly in front of your face and slightly below eye level. Do not tilt a computer monitor.
•Position yourself or your device, so there is sufficient distance between your eyes and the screen.
•Lessen the amount of overhead and surrounding light competing with your device's screen.
using a computer, first sit in your chair and extend your arm. Your
palm should rest comfortably on the monitor, as if you're high-fiving
•Keep hand-held devices a safe distance from your eyes and just below eye level.
text size to better define the content on your screen. Use the settings
control to make adjustments that feel comfortable to your eyes.
•Remind yourself to blink more often. Staring at a digital screen can affect the number of times you blink, causing eyes to dry.
Parents should limit the amount of screen time for children and
reduce their screen time in front of children to set healthy standards
in the home.
•Blink. Breathe. Break.
Time people say they spend daily on digital devices:
33%: 3-5 hours
32%: 6-9 hours
28%: 10 or more hours
5%: 2 hours or less
2%: do not use digital devices
Source: A survey by the Vision Council