Avoiding Computer Vision Syndrome

Women looking at computer screen with eye strain

In the old days, computer programmers were the only people who spent their days in front of a computer monitor. But nowadays, well over half of our workforce spends hours staring directly into a glowing screen. And unlike the workers of yesterday who would leave their tools behind at the end of the day, many of us head right home to park in front of our home PC for hours of gaming or surfing the web.

No wonder more of us are experiencing a decidedly modern ailment! The American Optometric Association (AOA) reports that more than half of American adults have experienced computer vision syndrome, also called digital eyestrain, which can happen when a person spends a lot of time using a computer monitor, smartphone or tablet.

Symptoms of computer vision syndrome include:

  • Dry eyes, eye irritation, a burning sensation.
  • Blurred or double vision.
  • Difficulty focusing.
  • Muscle fatigue.
  • Neck, back or shoulder pain.
  • Headaches.
  • Dizziness.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), computer vision syndrome is caused by focusing on tiny type for hours, and by the fact that we blink less often when reading from a screen. The AOA explains, "Viewing a computer or digital screen is different than reading a printed page. Often the letters on the computer or handheld device are not as precise or sharply defined, the level of contrast of the letters to the background is reduced, and the presence of glare and reflections on the screen may make viewing difficult."

The AAO reassures us that computer vision syndrome does not permanently damage the eyes, but the symptoms can be annoying and debilitating. AAO clinical spokesperson Dr. Natasha Herz reports, "I have many patients who work long hours in an office setting, and it can be irritating to the eyes, causing dryness, strain, even blurriness. Luckily, changing a few simple things in your environment and on your desk can help solve some of these problems."

Here are 10 suggestions from eye care experts:

  1. Position matters. When you're sitting at your desk, your eyes should be about 20 – 28 inches from the screen (about an arm's length away). The center of your monitor should be lower than your eyes. This relaxes your neck and doesn't force you to open your eyes as wide. Rather than leaning forward to see your screen, enlarge the type if necessary.
  2. Use a document stand so you won't have to move your head back and forth as much.
  3. Remember to blink. Blinking keeps our eyes moist and comfortable, but according to the AAO, people using a computer screen only blink half as often as they should. Remind yourself to blink about 15 times per minute.
  4. Adjust the brightness of your monitor to a level that's comfortable for you. And keep it clean and free from dust.
  5. Reduce glare. Position your monitor to avoid glare from overhead lighting, and close the blinds to avoid light from windows. A glare filter or hood over the monitor may be helpful.
  6. Give your eyes a rest. Eye care experts recommend following the "20-20-20 rule": Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes, and focus your eyes on something 20 feet away. Looking at something in the distance allows your eyes to relax.
  7. Give your body a rest, too. Get up, stretch, walk around.
  8. If your eyes are dry, ask your eye care professional about moisturizing eye drops. The AAO also suggests using a desktop humidifier if the air in your office is overly dry. Avoid sitting directly under air vents.
  9. Have your eyes checked. Vision problems raise the risk of digital eyestrain. And an outdated glasses prescription or glasses that aren't properly positioned on your face can cause blurring and neck strain. If you wear bifocals or progressive lenses, your doctor might recommend a second pair of glasses designed especially for computer use.
  10. Contact lenses may worsen computer vision syndrome. Have your lenses regularly evaluated; you may want to switch to your glasses for part of the day.

Says former AOA president Dr. Steven A. Loomis, "As more people spend their days at work on a computer and their free time on handheld devices, doctors of optometry are seeing more patients who are experiencing digital eye strain. The problem can be relieved by taking simple steps."

Learn More

The American Optometric Association (AOA) offers more information about computer vision syndrome, including a diagram of good body posturing for computer use.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.