Digital Eye Strain

We all spend so much time in front of screens these days, whether it be watching TV, working on a PC, scrolling through our phones or gaming.  In fact, a UK study polling 2,000 participants found that many were spending nearly 5,000 hours per year looking at a screen!

Extended screen time is one of the most common causes of eye strain.  Digital eye strain, or computer vision syndrome is a vision-related problem that results from prolonged use of a device with a screen.

Eye strain and computer vision syndrome

Looking at screens is different to looking at other things

You might wonder why looking at a screen is any different to looking at the words in a book.  There are a few reasons why viewing screens can cause vision-related problems.  Often the words or images on a screen or device aren’t quite as sharp as the printed words, meaning that the eyes need to work just that little bit harder to view them.  Also, screens have associated glare and reflections which over time cause strain and fatigue for your eyes.  Sometimes it’s because the screen is too close – most of us hold our phones or tablets in our hands, which means they are closer to our eyes than they ideally should be. 

Even those who wear glasses might also find they develop issues, perhaps because of the odd angle they are looking at the device through their glasses (this is particularly prevalent with phones where we tend to tuck our neck down). 

Eye strain and glare

Symptoms of digital eye strain

There are a few symptoms of digital eye strain, but the most common are:

  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Double vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Trouble keeping eyes open
  • Neck and shoulder pain

Often, the symptoms experienced will reduce when you stop using a digital device, but for others they may remain, especially for those who suffer from other eye conditions as well. If you experience any of these symptoms, we suggest you book an appointment for a comprehensive eye examination.

Eye problems due to computer use

How do I avoid digital eye strain – my job is looking at a computer all day!

Unfortunately for many of us, there is no getting around the need to use a device for our employment, but there are ways you can reduce the chances of getting digital eye strain such as:

  • Tell us! Tell your optometrist how much time you spend looking at a screen so we can make sure you have the right glasses for the job, and talk you through caring for your eyes in the digital environment.  If you already have digital eye strain, there are some things we can do to help, such as visual therapy.
  • Improve your work area – with an eye to good health.  This includes examining the lighting around you, minimising glare through screen glare filters and making sure you are sitting an appropriate distance from your screen.  It also helps to keep your screens clean, to ensure you are looking at the sharpest resolution possible.
  • Take a rest – we encourage you to implement the 20/20/20 rule – for every 20 minutes you look at a screen, spend 20 seconds looking away at something that is at least 20 feet (that’s around 6 metres) away.  Even better, is to get up and walk around, looking out a window at something in the distance.  Set yourself a timer so you don’t get caught up in your work and forget, or download an app that does it for you (try this one). 
  • Keep blinking! – The American Academy of Opthalmology has found that we humans normally blink about 15 times per minute, but when looking at a screen, this can decrease to half or even one-third of that amount.  Less blinking can lead to drier eyes so take note of how often you blink and try to increase the frequency.
The 20-20-20 rule for eye relief

Keeping on top of your eye health in the digital age

It’s impossible to tell you not to look at screens, especially for those of us who need to do so for our employment.  We do however, suggest annual eye examinations so we can have a close look at your eye health and keep on top of any changes to your eyes.  In the meantime, be sure to implement some of the tips we’ve listed above and see if that helps you to manage your eye health and your screen time.

We’ve referred to a number of sources when compiling this article:

Sustain Health,


App Store,


American Optometric Association,,digital%20screens%20for%20extended%20periods.

This website does not provide medical advice.  It is intended for informational purposes only.  It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment.  If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately dial Triple 0 (000).

Digital eye strain