Computer Vision Syndrome

What is digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain is a group of eye and vision problems. The problems can include eyes that itch and tear, and are dry and red. Your eyes may feel tired or uncomfortable. You may not be able to focus normally. These problems are caused by too much computer or digital device use. Using e-readers and smart phones may also cause these problems.

These problems have been increasing in frequency over the past few decades. Many people have some symptoms if they use a computer or digital device for long periods. Most computer or digital device users have symptoms at least some of the time. Digital eye strain is very common in both children and adults.

What causes digital eye strain?

For many reasons, reading text on a computer screen or digital device is often harder for the eyes than reading printed text. This is why working on a computer for a few hours might cause eye problems. But reading a book may not.

Several factors help to cause digital eye strain, such as:

  • Screen glare
  • Poor lighting
  • Poor posture while using a computer
  • Viewing a computer at the wrong distance and angle
  • Uncorrected vision problems
  • A mix of these things

People often blink less when using a computer than when reading printed text. This can cause dry eye. That can also help to cause digital eye strain.

Who is at risk for getting digital eye strain?

You may be at greater risk for digital eye strain if you:

  • Spend a few hours a day at a computer or on a digital device
  • Are too close to your computer or digital device screen
  • View your computer or digital device at the wrong angle
  • Have bad posture while using your computer or digital device
  • Have eye problems (even minor ones) not corrected with glasses or contact lenses
  • Have a pair of glasses that is not suitable for viewing the distance of your computer
  • Don’t take breaks while you are working

You may have an underlying problem with dry eye. This may make digital eye strain worse. Or it can make it more likely to occur. Dry eye is more common in women than in men. It also becomes more common with age. Some medicines and health problems make dry eye more likely. For example, if you use antihistamines, you may be at greater risk of having dry eye. If you have thyroid disease or certain autoimmune diseases, you are also at greater risk of having dry eye.

What are the symptoms of digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain can cause many symptoms, including:

  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Dry eye
  • Eye discomfort
  • Eye fatigue
  • Eye itching
  • Eye redness
  • Eye tearing
  • Headaches
  • Neck and shoulder pain

Most of these symptoms are short-term (temporary). They lessen or go away when you stop using your computer or device. But sometimes you may have symptoms for a long time afterward.

The severity of symptoms may vary depending on:

  • How long you have been using the computer or digital device
  • Your underlying eye problems
  • Other factors that cause digital eye strain.
Symptoms may get worse if you don't resolve the problem.

Using a computer or digital device for a long time can also lead to other symptoms. This includes neck and shoulder pain. This is often due to poor alignment and posture when using the computer or digital device. Some healthcare providers call these symptoms part of digital eye strain as well.

How is digital eye strain diagnosed?

Your eye care provider will make a diagnosis with a health history and complete eye exam. He or she will assess if any health problems, medicines, or environmental factors might be adding to your symptoms.

Your eye care provider may test the sharpness of your vision and how well your eyes focus and work together. In some cases, the provider may want to dilate (enlarge) your pupils. Then he or she will use a device (ophthalmoscope) to look at the back of your eye. In some cases, you may need to get follow-up blood tests for healthcare problems that might be helping to cause your digital eye strain.

How is digital eye strain treated?

Treatment includes creating a better work environment.

  • Rest your eyes at least 15 minutes after each 2 hours of computer or digital device use.
  • Every 20 minutes, look into the distance at least 20 feet away from the computer or digital device. Do this for at least 20 seconds.
  • Enlarge the text on your computer screen or digital device.
  • Minimize glare from the light sources in your environment.
  • Think about using a screen glare filter.
  • Place your screen so that the center of it is about 4 to 5 inches below eye level (about 15 to 20 degrees from the horizontal).
  • Place your screen about 20 to 28 inches from your eye.
  • Remember to blink often.
  • Fix your chair height so your feet can rest comfortably on the floor. Don’t slump over the computer screen.

Making these changes gets rid of digital eye strain in many people.

Your eye care provider will also need to treat any hidden health problems that may be helping to cause your digital eye strain. For example, you might need a new pair of glasses. If you have an underlying dry eye problem, your eye care provider might advise the following:

  • Using lubricating drops
  • Treating allergies, if you have them
  • Creating a more humid work environment
  • Drinking more fluids (staying hydrated)
  • Taking a prescription medicine to increase tear production

What can I do to prevent digital eye strain?

Create a better work environment to help prevent digital eye strain. If you use glasses or corrective lenses, see your eye care provider at least once a year or as advised for a checkup. Also see your healthcare provider regularly. This can help prevent and treat health problems that can help cause digital eye strain.

Online Medical Reviewer: Chris Haupert MD

Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN

Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC

Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019

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