Digital eye strain

We are all spending more time in front of screens than ever before, which makes your eyes work harder.

This can cause a special type of eye strain called computer vision syndrome, also known as digital vision strain or digital eye strain.

It’s not just working adults who are experiencing this problem, it’s
also affecting kids who use tablets and screens at school and home. With watching TV, gaming and checking up on social media all in the mix, many of us have little rest time away from a screen, until we sleep. 

Image: Canva

How would I know if I had digital eye strain?

While there isn’t proof that long-term computer use causes permanent damage to eyes, regular and prolonged screen time can lead to noticeable eye strain, discomfort and problems like: 

  • Blurry or double vision
  • Dry, red or irritated eyes
  • Eye fatigue
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Shoulder and back pain
  • Bad posture.

What causes digital eye strain?

Sitting at a computer or viewing a screen for long periods of time makes your eyes work harder. You are at greatest risk of eye strain of you work in front of a computer screen throughout your working day, especially if you work for 2 or more hours without a break each day.

Viewing a screen is different to reading a printed page. Screens throw glare and reflections, and their flickering makes your eyes work hard to adjust. We blink far less often when using a computer, so our eyes dry out more quickly. Dry eyes can also be made worse by air circulating from air conditioning or a nearby fan.

Viewing distances, the angle of screens, and the position you hold your tablet, phone and e-reader makes reading on a screen different from reading a book or writing.

If you wear glasses or contact lenses, your screen distance might not be compatible with your prescription, or you might tilt your head at an odd angle to see the screen clearly. Poor posture held over a long period of time can lead to muscle soreness or spasms. A badly designed workspace can also contribute.

Uncorrected vision problems and age-related conditions such as presbyopia can also add to digital eye strain, so make sure you get regular eye check-ups as you grow older.

How can I prevent digital vision strain?

Take regular breaks

Eye doctors recommend the 20-20-20 rule: take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes.

You can also take take breaks during your working day:

  • get up to use the photocopier
  • walk around while making a call
  • stop and chat with your co-workers
  • spend time outdoors while eating your lunch and don’t sit scrolling on your phone!

Limit screen time

This is especially important for tamariki, but we should all be leading by example when it comes to giving our screens a rest. It’s also important to give our eyes and brains a break before we head for bed. If you have problems sleeping, spending time during the evening glued to your screen may be contributing to your problems. Good sleep hygiene involves switching off your screens at least an hour before bedtime as they can affect the melatonin needed to go to sleep. Read more about tips for sleep.

Blink often

Blinking helps keep your eyes moist but if they do feel dry (and air-conditioned offices can make them worse), try using some lubricating eye drops.

Change your work set-up

Some simple to achieve changes to your work-station or office can improve digital eye strain.

  • Cut glare coming onto your screen by moving your monitor away from a window, closing a blind or turning off bright overhead lights.
  • If possible, try and keep your monitor about 20-28 inches (about an arm’s length) from your face, with the top of the screen at or just below eye level.
  • If you’re using reference materials or reading papers, try using a document holder beside the monitor so your head doesn’t have to do much movement between the document and screen.
  • Adjust your screen settings on your monitor with font size, brightness and contrast to best suit you.
  • Adjust your chair height so your feet can rest flat on the floor. Make sure your chair has good back support for your spine.

Get an eye check

If your eye strain problems aren’t going away, or are getting worse, schedule an appointment with an eye doctor or optometrist to check your general eye health. They might prescribe glasses for tasks like reading and computer use which can help eye strain.

Learn more

7 Ways to Ease Computer Vision Syndrome Healthline, US
What is Computer Vision Syndrome? WebMD, US
Mayo Clinic: 9 Tips to Avoid Computer Eye Strain Optometrists Network, US


20/20/20 to prevent digital eye strain American Optometric Association, US
Computer Vision Syndrome American Optometric Association, US
Eyestrain Mayo Clinic, US
Dry eyes Mayo Clinic, US

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.