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HomeBlogComputer vision syndrome: Causes and treatment

Computer vision syndrome: Causes and treatment

 Reviewed by Valerie Kattouf, OD, FAAO

Computer vision syndrome, which is also called digital eye strain, is a series of eye and vision-associated problems that are caused by excessive screen time. 

The level of discomfort appears to increase with excessive computer use.

“How excessive are we talking?” you ask, very aware of how often you scroll through your phone to avoid boredom.

Researchers determined that the average adult spends approximately 6 hours and 43 minutes per day staring at a screen. Over the span of a lifetime, that calculates to 7,956 days — over 21 years of a person’s life spent using a digital device.

For some people, this exposure is inevitable, as working at a computer is part of their work and everyday life. But it is important for a person’s mental and physical well-being to work toward achieving balance regarding screen time.

One of the dangers of our digital lives is all of that blue light emitted from screens. Blue light can cause eye strain and disrupt your sleep patterns. 

What can you do to reduce the effects of computer vision syndrome? Computer glasses are designed to reduce digital eye strain. Increasing your blink rate and taking breaks from your screens can help, too. (More on this later.)

Two people sitting on a bed with food and computer vision syndrome glasses

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What are the symptoms of computer vision syndrome? 

Computer vision syndrome can present itself in a number of ways. The most common symptoms are:

  • Eye strain/visual fatigue
  • Dry, red or irritated eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Neck and shoulder pain

What causes computer vision syndrome (digital eye strain)?

Computer vision syndrome (digital eye strain) is quite rampant in our society. Young children and adults alike suffer from the symptoms of headaches, eyestrain and more. 

Digital eye strain is a result of fatigue and overuse of the visual system. The visual system is complex. Seeing 20/20 is only one piece of the puzzle. Digital eye strain is created when the focusing and/or eye-teaming systems lose stamina, efficiency, and flexibility. 

Digital eye strain is similar to an overuse injury in sports. Our visual systems were not created to have the intense near-vision demands of today’s world. The eyes work harder when they’re looking at a digital screen, whether it be a computer, smartphone, tablet or television. 

Not only do the eyes work harder, but according to the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, they blink less — 66% less often — than when not viewing a screen. It is known that the more we concentrate the less we blink. A decreased blink rate contributes to the development of dry, irritated eyes or dry eye syndrome.

Some other factors that contribute to digital eye strain are uncorrected vision issues, poor posture, screen glare, your distance from the screen, and room lighting. The lighting in the room should be comfortable, so you’re not staring into the glare of the computer screen.

A woman looking at her phone wearing computer vision syndrome glasses

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How does one prevent or treat computer vision syndrome?

Eye care professionals have found that computer vision syndrome has a significant effect on one’s visual comfort, work/academic performance and overall well-being. 

To avoid computer vision syndrome symptoms, practice some of the following suggestions:

  • Get a comprehensive eye exam — A comprehensive eye examination will always begin by determining if a patient needs a visual correction (glasses or contacts). Research has shown that even a mild prescription can help to alleviate computer vision syndrome symptoms. Your eye doctor should also assess your focusing and eye teaming skills to determine any role they play in contributing to digital eye strain. Lastly, your eye doctor will evaluate your eye health. A dry eye workup may be necessary to diagnose and treat this condition.
  • Increase your blink rate — When you neglect blinking, it causes the eyes to become dry, which causes tearing and discomfort. Being mindful of how frequently (or infrequently) you’re blinking will reduce these symptoms. 
  • Take breaks — For every hour that you sit in front of a computer, you should take a 10-minute break. During these breaks, get up, walk around and stretch your shoulders, neck and back. This will help with tightness or tension caused by computer vision syndrome. For your eyes, practice the “20-20-20 rule” — every 20 minutes focus on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Practicing this may reduce eye strain caused by focusing on a screen.
  • Get computer vision syndrome glasses —  To reduce blue light exposure, which may be causing your headaches and eye strain, computer glasses with blue light filtering can help.

Other effects of too much screen time

Being preoccupied with a screen does more than dry out your eyes and create tension between your shoulders. In fact, the temporary symptoms experienced with digital eye strain pale in comparison to the effects that screens have on how we communicate. These effects are apparent in adults but even more so in children.

Studies have shown that unrestricted access to screens has hindered young adults’ ability to engage in face-to-face communication. The lack of experience in having in-person dialogue weakens a person’s ability to process social information like vocal and nonverbal cues.

In addition, research shows that young minds are more prone to addiction in regards to digital usage. The World Health Organization (WHO) has added ‘gaming disorder’ to the International Classification of Diseases.

Limiting your screen time, as well as your child’s, will teach them how to communicate effectively, maintain healthy eye contact and build relationships in-person rather than online. 

The goal in regard to digital device usage is to create balance. Balancing screen time looks different for every individual. Decreasing the amount of time that the visual system is engaged will help to decrease the symptoms of computer vision syndrome.

Setting restrictions on how much time your family spends in front of a screen will keep your eyes and your relationships healthy.

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