All About Digital Eye Strain

Simple Contacts

With technology increasingly taking over our daily lives—becoming an ever-growing part of our work, academic, and personal time—we’re all at a greater risk of encountering digital eye strain.

What is it, exactly?
Maybe after a long day at work, or after a Netflix binge on your tablet, your eyes feel dry or watery. Or maybe your vision even feels a little blurry or you have a headache. Hate to break it to you, but you may be experiencing digital eye strain (DES)—also known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)—which is an eye and vision related issue experienced after staring at device screens (computers, cell phones, e-readers and tablets) for too long.

How do you know if you’re experiencing it?
There are many different symptoms. Some people experience just one or two, while others experience most, if not all of them. According to the American Optometric Association, the following are some of the more common symptoms of digital eye strain:

  • Tired eyes
  • Eye discomfort
  • Headaches
  • Dry or watery eyes
  • Itchy or irritated eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Double vision
  • Neck, shoulder or back pain

Okay, but why does this happen?
The reasons behind digital eye strain are two-fold.

First, when we focus on specific visual tasks for extended periods of time (reading a book, staring at a monitor) the ciliary muscle in our eyes—the muscle that helps us see objects at varying distances—begins to tighten. This tightening results in our eyes feeling irritated. And, when working on tablets or computers, our eyes are constantly focusing, refocusing, moving back and forth and reacting to our changing screens. All of this takes a heavy toll on on our eye muscles. Plus, we often hold our tablets or smartphones up close to our eyes, which strains them even more.

Second, the glare of our devices actually causes further eye strain and headaches. Along with the glare, our device screens emit blue light, also known as high-energy visible light (HEV light). While the light renders our devices more energy efficient, it actually contributes to digital eye strain by making our eyes work harder to focus.

How do you combat digital eye strain?
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the symptoms that come with digital eye strain. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Blink: Yup! Remembering to blink can actually help reduce eye irritation because blinking refreshes our eyes. Studies have shown that while staring at our devices we blink significantly less than we do when we’re not. So, blink and refresh!

  2. Switch off and recharge: Like blinking, sleep also refreshes our eyes and can ease strain. Unfortunately, an undesirable side effect of blue light is that it suppresses our melatonin secretion (what helps us sleep at night), making it more difficult to fall asleep. So, try to limit your screen time before bed to allow for a good night’s rest.

  3. 20-20-20: Taking breaks is always a good idea. For every 20 minutes you stare at a screen, take 20 seconds and simply stare at something that’s 20 feet away. This will lessen the stress of the glare and blue light on your eyes and work to counteract any strain or discomfort.

  4. Pay attention to your surroundings: Upgrade your work space! Make sure you have proper lighting and that your monitor is a good distance away from your eyes to reduce the tightening of your eye muscles.

  5. Visit your doctor: If you’re suffering from chronic digital eye strain, make an appointment with your doctor for a comprehensive eye exam as soon as possible. By ensuring your eyes are healthy and your prescription is up to date, your doctor can help alleviate the strain that comes with living in our technological world.