Clearing Up 'Computer Vision Syndrome'

Staring at a computer screen, whether at your desktop workstation or on your smartphone or tablet, has become a dominant part of daily life for just about everyone.

Viewing digital devices is so common and pervasive now that up to nine of every 10 computer users have been affected by one or more symptoms of “computer vision syndrome” (CVS) — the name given to eye, head and neck strain associated with prolonged screen time, according to various studies.

Young adults who comprise the generation known as “milliennials” (birth years from the early 1980s to the early 2000s) are becoming especially susceptible to CVS, even though it affects adults of all ages.

According to the Vision Council’s recently-released annual survey of digital device use, 69 percent of American adults use a smartphone on a daily basis — compared with 45 percent three years ago. The Council also found that 68 percent of millennials report suffering from the effects of “digital eye strain.”

Nearly three in 10 adults overall (29.8 percent) are frequent users, spending more than nine hours each day using digital devices, the Council reports. Meanwhile, one in four children use these devices more than three hours a day. CVS is having a big impact on teenagers and young adults who spend several hours a day playing video games.

More Young People Getting Eye Strain

“We’re all seeing an increasing number of younger people with symptoms of dry eye or fatigue,” said Dr. Lee Klein, an ophthalmologist affiliated with Baptist Eye Surgery Center. “Some complain about blurred vision. Usually, there’s no real harm, just too much time is spent focusing on a computer screen.”

Digital eye strain is becoming more of a health issue because staring at a glowing display (be it a computer monitor, laptop screen, television, tablet or phone) for long periods is an unnatural activity for the human eye. Small print and digital images may cause you to strain in order to focus. Staring at computer screens also causes people to blink less, which can lead to dryness or irritation in eyes.

“The problem is that people are taxing their vision by just staring at an illuminated source,” says Dr. Klein. “Dry eye is biggest issue because people’s blink rate slows down and the ocular surface dries. Additionally, the air conditioner is on in the office or at home and that intensifies the drying effect.”

‘Blue Light’ Concerns

But the bigger concern has to do with the “blue light” emitted by digital displays (known as high-energy visible, or “HEV” light), which increases eye strain. The Vision Council reports that emerging research suggests cumulative and constant exposure to blue light can even damage retinal cells over time — although much research is still needed to determine a cause and effect.

“Because blue light can reach deeper into the eye than ultraviolet light, it may damage the retina,” according to the Vision Council. “Although the issue is nascent, emerging research points to a possible link between exposure to blue light and long-term vision issues such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.”

Use Digital Devices Responsibly

According to the Vision Council, here are steps you can take to lessen the effect of Computer Vision Syndrome.

  • When using handheld devices, make sure to keep them at a safe distance, just below eye level.
  • Take a 20-20-20 break: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away.
  • Remind yourself to blink more often. Staring at a digital screen can affect the number of times you blink, causing eyes to dry.
  • Frequently dust and wipe digital screens to help reduce glare.
  • Increase text size to better define the content on the screen. Use the settings control to make adjustments that feel comfortable to your eyes.
  • Ways to Adjust Your Workstation

    • Lessen the amount of overhead and surrounding light that is competing with the device’s screen.
    • Adjust the brightness of the device. Consider changing the background color from bright white to cool gray.
    • Attach a glare reduction filter to your computer screen.

    Workstation Setup
    • Create a comfortable distance for viewing. When using a computer, first sit in your chair and extend your arm. Your palm should rest comfortably on the monitor (as if you’re high-fiving the screen), ideally 20 to 28 inches from your eyes.
    • Adjust the screen so that it is directly in front of your face and slightly below eye level. Do not tilt a computer monitor.

    Healthcare that Cares

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