According to recent studies, prolonged exposure to digital screens can lead to a severe condition known as computer eye strain, also referred to as digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome. This condition arises because our eyes have to work extra hard when viewing screens, leading to a range of symptoms that can affect our day-to-day lives.
In today’s society, people spend long hours staring at their phones, tablets, computer monitors, and televisions. With modern jobs often requiring people to focus on screens for several hours per day, there is little respite for the eyes. Moreover, many people rely on digital media or TV to relax after work, further contributing to the problem.
The American Optometric Association explains that our eyes are under greater strain when viewing screens compared to reading printed words on a page. This is partly due to the letters on many screens not being as sharply defined as printed letters. The screens also have less contrast than the printed page and are affected by reflection and glare, making the eyes work extra hard when reading words on a screen.
The reduction in blinking rate is another significant contributing factor to computer eye strain. Blinking is an important biological function that keeps the surface of the eyes clean and lubricated, and the decrease in blinking when viewing screens may explain some of the symptoms of computer eye strain.
The symptoms of computer eye strain include tired and strained eyes, eye discomfort, dry, irritated or burning eyes, blurred vision when viewing screens or looking into the distance, difficulty refocusing the eyes, sensitivity to bright lights, headaches, neck and shoulder pain.
There are exercises that can help with the prevention and management of computer eye strain. The 20-20-20 rule is one such exercise recommended by the American Optometric Association, which involves looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds after every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen. Additionally, it is essential to spend some time each day on eye focus exercises like slowly alternating between focusing on something far away and something nearby. The figure-eight exercise is another recommended exercise where a person looks at an area of floor that is 8 feet away and slowly moves their eyes in a figure-eight shape for 30 seconds in one direction, then 30 seconds in the other.
Several studies suggest that these exercises could significantly help alleviate computer eye strain symptoms. For instance, one study found that looking at distant objects during breaks from work can significantly reduce the symptoms of computer vision syndrome.
Environmental modifications may also help prevent and manage computer eye strain. One study suggests that controlling light intensity can help reduce glare, and the authors recommend different light intensities for different age groups. Additionally, the optimal workstation arrangements are essential, where a person’s eyes should be around 35-40 inches from their computer screen, and the screen should be about 5-6 inches below eye level.
If a person’s computer eye strain symptoms are causing them significant discomfort or impairment, they should consider seeing a doctor or undergoing an eye exam. Seeking information about local vision therapists may also be helpful. Vision therapists can provide exercises and training that can help alleviate computer eye strain, such as focus exercises and blinking training.
Some symptoms of computer eye strain can develop or worsen due to an underlying vision problem. If a person suspects an underlying vision problem, it is essential to see an eye specialist who can test their eyesight and determine the types of glasses or corrective lenses that are appropriate to the person’s needs.