Computer Eye Strain Explained (and How to Avoid It)

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Ever spent more than two consecutive hours looking at a computer screen? Us too. Computers can make us more productive, but the bad news is they could also lead to something called Computer Vision Syndrome. More recognizable as that tired, strained feeling those eyes get after a day in front of a screen, the condition packs a punch: 64 to 90 percent of office workers suffer from CVS [1] [2]. Read on to learn how to spot the symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome — and what to do about them.

I Spy Eye Strain — The Need-to-Know

CVS likely doesn’t cause permanent eye damage, but it can still affect computer users’ comfort. The most common symptoms of CVS include eye strain, redness, irritation, or dryness, a burning feeling in the eyes, blurred or double vision after computer use, headaches, and neck and shoulder pain (eesh!) [3] [2].

Several factors increase the likelihood of CVS, including uncorrected vision problems, dry eyes, glares on the screen, poor lighting, poor posture, and even the angle of the monitor [2] [6]. Another big factor is incorrect prescriptions: Almost 71 percent of people reporting symptoms of CVS wear eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Better Vision in Sight — Your Action Plan

Computer screens proving a pain in the eyes? Follow these guidelines to help ease symptoms:

  • Have your eyes checked regularly. If you need a new or changed prescription and don’t have it, using a computer will be difficult, period.
  • Reposition the computer. The screen should be about an arm’s length away and positioned directly in front of the face, not off to the side. Position the monitor so its center is four to eight inches below the eyes, which allows the neck to relax while we read and type.
  • Follow guidelines for good posture. It’ll reduce strain on the back, neck, and shoulders.
  • Ensure proper lighting. Try the visor test to determine if current lighting is a problem: Look at the monitor and cup the hands over the eyes, like a baseball cap. If the eyes immediately feel better, then the lighting should be changed. Experiment with brighter and dimmer lighting, as well as the angle of the lights, to find what’s most comfortable for the eyes [2].
  • Reduce glare. Installing anti-glare filters on the monitor, adjusting window shades, and changing the screen’s contrast and brightness can help reduce glare and reflections [2].
  • Blink frequently. It should prevent dry eyes. If that doesn’t work, consider lubricating eye drops [2]. Also make sure air vents aren’t blowing on the face (this can dry out the eyes), and use a humidifier if the room is super dry.
  • Take regular work breaks. Stand, stretch, or just look off into the distance, away from the computer, every 15 minutes or so to give the eyes a break [2].
  • Clean the monitor regularly. Dust can decrease screen sharpness, making the eyes work harder.
  • Try computer glasses. Unlike everyday eyewear, they’re designed specifically for looking at computer screens.
  • Consider Optometric Vision Therapy. Some computer users have issues with eye focusing or coordination that aren’t corrected by glasses or contacts. Vision therapy consists of doctor-prescribed activities designed to improve visual functioning (think of it as a workout for the eyes—though no guarantees as to calorie burn).

Thanks to Dr. Dominick Maino, Professor of Pediatics/Binocular Vision at the Illinois Eye Institute/Illinois College of Optometry, and Dr. Leonard Press, Developmental Optometrist at the Vision and Learning Center, for their help with this article.

Have you suffered from computer eye strain? Have any of these tips worked for you? Share in comments below!

About the Author
Laura Newcomer
I'm a Senior Editor at Greatist. I'm particularly interested in the ways our mental and physical health intersect, as well as how to build...

Works Cited

  1. A comparison of symptoms after viewing text on a computer screen and hardcopy. Chu, C., Rosenfield, M., Portello, JK, et al. SUNY College of Optometry, State University of New York, New York. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 2011 Jan;31(1):29-32
  2. Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Rosenfield, M. SUNY College of Optometry, New York. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 2011 Sep;31(5):502-15
  3. Effects of job-related stress and burnout on asthenopia among high-tech workers. Ostrovsky, A., Ribak, J., Pereg, A., et al. Department of Environmental & Occupational Health, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Israel. Ergonomics, 2012 Aug;55(8):854-62
  4. Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Rosenfield, M. SUNY College of Optometry, New York. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 2011 Sep;31(5):502-15
  5. Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Rosenfield, M. SUNY College of Optometry, New York. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 2011 Sep;31(5):502-15
  6. Factors leading to the Computer Vision Syndrome: an issue at the contemporary workplace. Izquierdo, JC, Garcia, M., Buxo, C., et al. Academia Perpetuo Socorro, Puerto Rico. Boleton de la Associacion Medica de Puerto Rico, 2004 Mar-Apr;96(2):103-10
  7. Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Rosenfield, M. SUNY College of Optometry, New York. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 2011 Sep;31(5):502-15
  8. Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Rosenfield, M. SUNY College of Optometry, New York. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 2011 Sep;31(5):502-15
  9. Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Rosenfield, M. SUNY College of Optometry, New York. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 2011 Sep;31(5):502-15
  10. Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Rosenfield, M. SUNY College of Optometry, New York. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 2011 Sep;31(5):502-15

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