A Guide to Digital Eye Strain (AKA Computer Vision Syndrome)

9 mins read

The average American spends nearly eight hours looking at a digital screen every day. That’s more time than the average adult sleeps!

While this number is shocking, it isn’t too surprising when you think about it. Technology has crept into every aspect of our lives. This has brought many benefits and advancements, but it’s also ushered in a number of problems. One such problem? Digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about digital eye strain. By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll understand what digital eye strain is, what causes it, what symptoms to look out for, and most importantly, how to resolve and prevent it.   

What is digital eye strain?
Symptoms
Causes
Duration
Prevention
Blue Light Glasses

What is digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain (aka computer vision syndrome) is a group of eye- and vision-related problems caused by staring at digital screens for extended periods.

 

digital eye strain definition

 

This condition doesn’t only stem from computer use. Spending hours using any type of digital device, including laptops, e-readers, tablets, TVs, and smartphones, can trigger the uncomfortable symptoms of digital eye strain. In fact, research sponsored by The Vision Council showed that six out of ten Americans report experiencing symptoms of digital eye strain.

What are the symptoms of digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain symptoms vary from person to person, however, people may experience any number of the following:

What causes digital eye strain?

Why does staring at a digital screen trigger these symptoms? Simply put, digital screen use requires intense use of the eyes. There are several factors that add up, resulting in the uncomfortable symptoms associated with this condition:

  • Less blinking: When looking at a digital screen, you tend to blink less, which leads to dryness, irritation, and blurry vision.
  • Contrast: When the digital screen you’re staring at contrasts too much with surrounding light (i.e. bright screens in a dark room or dim screens in a bright room), your eyes have to work harder. This can lead to eye strain and fatigue.
  • Singular focus: In a normal environment, your eyes are constantly changing focus.  When on a digital device for an extended period of time, the eyes (and focusing muscle) must maintain a fixed position. This can fatigue the eye and also cause spasms in the eye leading to intermittent blurred vision at near, in the distance or both.
  • Small print: Digital screens often display small print and pixelated images that can be difficult to see clearly, causing your eyes to strain to focus.
  • Poor posture: Often, people slouch or hunch over when using digital devices. This can result in back, neck, and shoulder pain.
  • Blue light: Digital screens emit blue light—a color in the visible light spectrum that is also emitted by the sun. The artificial blue light from digital devices is emitted at a lower level than the sun, but at closer proximity and for an extended period. Many headache and migraine sufferers identify this bright blue light as a trigger for their headaches and migraines. Blue light is also known to cause disruptions in your body’s sleep cycle and may even play a role in age-related macular degeneration

What does digital eye strain feel like?

One of the first signs of digital eye strain is that your eyes will feel dry, irritated, and tired. It’s similar to that heavy feeling you might have after getting a poor night’s sleep. These eye symptoms aren’t necessarily painful, but can be quite uncomfortable.

By continuously straining the muscles in your eyes, a headache that radiates from behind your eyes or between your eyebrows typically follows. Unlike the eye-related symptoms above, these headaches can be very painful and can sometimes lead to migraines.

 

digital eye strain symptoms and causes

 

Can eye strain cause dizziness?

While not one of the most common symptoms, digital eye strain can cause dizziness or vertigo. This is because there is a strong connection between the eyes and the vestibular system—a sensory system responsible for providing the brain with information about motion, head position, and spatial orientation.  The eyes give the vestibular system vital information to maintain a clear and steady perception of the world, so if and when the eyes are strained due to prolonged digital screen use, the vestibular system can become affected, resulting in dizziness. 

It’s important to note that several other health conditions can cause dizziness, so visit your doctor for a check-up if you’re experiencing this symptom. 

How long does eye strain last?

Thankfully, computer vision syndrome isn’t permanent. How long your symptoms last depends on many factors, including how many hours you spend using digital devices, whether you have other vision problems (such as nearsightedness or astigmatism), and whether you take steps to reduce the impact of digital screens. 

As such, there’s no definitive timeline for overcoming digital eye strain. That being said, when you put protective habits into place, such as taking regular breaks and wearing blue light blocking glasses, most of the symptoms should ease quickly. Some of the symptoms, such as headaches or neck pain, might take a little longer to resolve completely.  

Is digital eye strain dangerous? 

Experiencing computer vision syndrome can be annoying and uncomfortable, but it’s not inherently dangerous. It’s simply an expression of tired, overworked eyes.

That doesn’t mean you should charge forward with your bad digital habits and ignore your symptoms. While the symptoms themselves might not be dangerous, experiencing effects like dizziness or headaches could put you at risk in other situations, such as when driving. 

Ultimately, the symptoms of digital eye strain are a message that your eyes need to rest—and it’s important to respect that—for the well-being of your eyes, yourself, and those around you.

Can eye strain heal on its own? 

Digital eye strain typically doesn’t require doctor intervention, however, if you’re experiencing symptoms and don’t change your screen use habits or give your eyes a proper break, your symptoms likely won’t resolve on their own.

To reduce or eliminate your symptoms, you must take proactive steps to protect your eyes and break habits that are contributing to your symptoms.

Tips for preventing and overcoming digital eye strain

Ideally, you want to prevent symptoms of digital eye strain before they even begin. If you’re currently experiencing symptoms, however, don’t worry. The following tips are effective at both reducing existing symptoms and preventing future symptoms.  

Blink often

When using digital devices, most people blink less. This is an issue because blinking produces tears that moisten and refresh your eyes. When using your computer, smartphone, iPad, or any other digital device, make a conscious effort to blink more often.

Use artificial tears

You can further support your eyes’ moisture with over-the-counter artificial tears. Put one or two drops in each eye before you begin using your device and then again when you feel your eyes getting dry and irritated.

Take breaks

It’s essential to give your eyes breaks from looking at digital screens. A great approach is to practice the 20-20-20 rule while using digital devices: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

Perform eye exercises

Just like you periodically need to stand up and stretch your legs, arms, and back, you also need to stretch your eyes. Performing specific eye exercises can increase eye endurance and fend off fatigue. Click here for some effective eye exercises to try.

Adjust the lighting and reduce glare

When the brightness of your screen contrasts too strongly with the surrounding light, your eyes can experience more strain. If you’re in a bright room, your screen should also be brighter. Conversely, turn down your screen’s brightness if you’re in a dim or dark room.

To reduce screen glare, consider turning off some or all overhead lights. Glare reduction filters are also available, which easily attach to computer screens.

Increase type size 

Struggling to read itty-bitty font on tiny screens is a recipe for eye strain. To support your eyes, enlarge the type on your screen for easier reading.

Practice “eyegonomics”

Whether using a computer, smartphone, or other digital devices, being mindful of the position of your eyes in relation to the device is essential. Your digital screen should always be directly in front of your face and slightly below eye level.

Also, be sure to position your device so there’s sufficient distance between your eyes and the screen:

  • For computers: Adjust the distance until you can extend your arm and place your palm flat on the monitor, as though you were high-fiving the screen. 
  • For hand-held devices: Hold the device at what is called the Harmon Distance.  This distance has been studied and found to be the optimal distance to maintain near work with the least amount of strain on your visual system.. To find your Harmon Distance, bend your arm and make a fist, then place the fist at your eye level and wherever your elbow lands is the optimal distance to hold your device (N.B. Some resources say you can also measure from your having your fist rest on your chin instead of at eye level) 

Optimize computer ergonomics

Computer ergonomics refers to setting up your computer workstation to reduce computer vision syndrome symptoms. In addition to the tips mentioned above regarding monitor placement, keep the following suggestions in mind:

  • Invest in an ergonomic chair and sit with your hips far back in your chair. 
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and your back straight and supported—avoid slouching or raising your shoulders.
  • Keep your arms bent and elbows by your sides with your wrists in a comfortable position. 
  • Place your keyboard directly in front of you, leaving about four to six inches of space at the front of the desk to rest your wrists.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor with your knees in line with your hips. 

 

Wear blue light glasses

Blue light glasses are an increasingly popular accessory in today’s digital age. This is because these glasses can help you sleep better and, depending on the brand, prevent dry eyes, reduce eye strain, and minimize glare. These benefits result in improved clarity and focus, allowing you to perform at your best, whether you’re gaming, scrolling through social media, or at work.

Another option is to use a blue light computer screen protector, which is a panel that you adhere to your laptop screen. However, blue light glasses tend to be a better option, as they allow you to switch between devices while remaining protected. 

How can GUNNAR blue light glasses support your eyes?

 

gunnar glasses reviews about digital eye strain relief

 

As the only patented gaming and computer eyewear recommended by doctors, GUNNAR blue light glasses address all short- and long-term symptoms of digital eye strain. Let’s take a look at how our lens technology works to support the health and comfort of your eyes:

  • Enhances focus: The lens technology enhances natural focus at close range to ease eye strain and provide sharper, clearer vision. 
  • Blocks blue light: The lens tint filters artificial blue light emitted from digital screens. This sharpens contrast, protects your eyes, and reduces sleep disturbances. We use our GUNNAR Blue Light Filter (GBLF) scale to measure eye protection at the peak of the blue light spectrum. Our Amber lenses, for example, have a GBLF of 65, meaning 65% of blue light is blocked when wearing these lenses. 
  • Helps to prevent dry eyes: The lens shape is wrapped to limit air currents and maintain humidity, which sharpens detail and reduces eye strain and dry eyes. 
  • Minimizes glare: The lens coating reduces glare and reflective light to eliminate visual stress and distractions, making for a more comfortable and productive visual experience. 

 

eye strain glasses review

 

A final word on digital eye strain

Due to our increasing reliance on digital devices, experiencing digital eye strain, or computer vision syndrome, is extremely common. Some experts suggest that spending a mere two hours a day staring at digital screens is enough to trigger symptoms.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce or prevent digital eye strain. Take frequent breaks, practice proper “eyegonomics,” maintain good posture, and wear high-quality blue light glasses. Oh, and don’t forget to blink! That’s surprisingly easy to forget.

Start supporting the well-being of your eyes today by choosing a pair of performance blue light glasses fromGUNNAR’s wide selection. Unlike most other blue light glasses, GUNNAR lenses are designed to address the short and long term symptoms of digital eye strain. We offer both prescription and non-prescription lens options, available in many trendy frame styles for both adults and children. 

When paired with the other tips on this list, your comfort and productivity are sure to skyrocket! 

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