What is Computer Vision Syndrome?
Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is a group of vision-related problems that stem from using electronic screens and devices for prolonged periods.
Also known as digital eye strain, computer vision syndrome affects 75% to 90% of computer users.3 In addition to computers, prolonged use of tablets, e-readers, and smartphones also contribute to digital eye strain.
The average American worker spends about seven hours per day on the computer. This is more than double the time needed to experience.1
While there’s no evidence that CVS causes permanent vision problems, it can affect your quality of life. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to relieve and prevent CVS.
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Computer Vision Syndrome Symptoms
People with computer vision syndrome experience various musculoskeletal and visual symptoms. Common symptoms of CVS include:
- Blurred vision
- Neck pain
- Back pain
- Shoulder pain
- Dry eyes
- Double vision
- Eye discomfort
- Eye fatigue and irritation
- Glassy eyes
The more time a person spends in front of digital screens, the more discomfort they experience. A study on office workers with CVS found a positive correlation between hours of computer exposure and the severity of dry eye symptoms.2
7 Causes of Computer Vision Syndrome
Your eyes have to work harder to read text on digital screens than on printed pages. Unlike reading a book, an electronic screen adds glare, flickers, and reflections. The text on digital devices often has poor contrast and definition compared to regular paper.
Several factors contribute to computer vision syndrome, including:
1. Uncorrected Vision Problems
Uncorrected vision problems are a major cause of digital eye strain. Visual symptoms of CVS are often worse in people with uncorrected vision problems.
Poor visual acuity may be the result of an undiagnosed refractive error, such as:
- Myopia (nearsightedness)
- Hyperopia (farsightedness)
Even if you already wear glasses or contacts, the prescription may not be suitable for the viewing distance of a computer screen.
2. Improper Viewing Distance and Angle
The distance and angle of your computer screen usually differ from what it would be if you were reading a book or writing on paper. As a result, your eye muscles need to move and switch focus a lot more for digital screen work.
3. Screen Glare
Glare occurs when light bounces off your digital device screen and enters your eyes. This can fatigue your eyes quickly.
4. Poor Lighting
Some environmental factors, such as the lighting in your workspace, are difficult to control. Bright lights and sunshine coming through windows can cast a glare on your screen.
5. Blue Light Exposure
Digital device screens emit a small amount of blue light, far less than the amount we get from the sun.
Some studies found that blue light exposure can contribute to digital eye strain. However, other research suggests more evidence is necessary to confirm these findings.6-7
6. Poor Posture
Poor posture can contribute to musculoskeletal symptoms, such as:
- Neck strain
- Back pain
- Shoulder pain
- Muscle spasms
Some people may lean toward their screens or tilt their heads at odd angles to see clearly. This is a sign you may need a new vision prescription.
7. Not Enough Blinking
Staring at a screen causes you to blink less frequently. This exacerbates dry eye symptoms, such as:
- Ocular discomfort and irritation
- Tired eyes
- Blurry vision
- Light sensitivity
Who is at Risk for Computer Vision Syndrome?
Risk factors for computer vision syndrome include:
- Spending three hours or more per day looking at a digital screen
- Having vision problems that aren’t corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses
- Wearing corrective lenses that aren’t suitable for the viewing distance of your computer
- Viewing your computer screen or digital device at the wrong angle
- Working at a computer for more than two consecutive hours without taking breaks
- Positioning your screen too close to your eyes
- Sitting or standing with poor posture
How to Relieve Computer Vision Syndrome on Your Own
You may not be able to avoid looking at digital devices, but there are many things you can do to make your experience more comfortable. Here are some ways to computer vision syndrome:
Take Frequent Breaks
Every two hours you spend working at the computer should include 15 minutes of break time. During these breaks, it’s important to look at things that aren’t digital screens.
The 20-20-20 rule is an easy way to keep your eyes relaxed. Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen for 20 seconds at an object at least 20 feet away.
Regular breaks are a great opportunity to stand up and stretch your neck and back. This can help relieve any stiffness or discomfort.
Remind yourself to blink more often while looking at a screen. This will help distribute fresh tears across your eyes and keep them moist.
Adjust Your Workstation
Set your computer so that the center of the screen is about four to five inches below your eye level. Tilt the top back about 10 to 20 degrees. Make sure you don’t need to tilt your head up or down to see clearly.
Position your computer monitor 16 to 30 inches away from your eyes. If you find yourself leaning closer to see, try enlarging the text on your screen.
To minimize glare, you might need to adjust your room lighting. Glare happens when light sources around you reflect off your screen.
Try to avoid any direct lighting on your digital device. To do this:
- Close window blinds, shades, or curtains
- Dim overhead lights
- Add a screen glare filter to your monitor
Lubricate Your Eyes
Use lubricating eye drops throughout the day while working on a computer. Keep a bottle at your desk as a reminder to use them.
Consider wearing glasses if you plan to use a computer for extended periods. Contact lenses can aggravate dry eyes.
Practice Good Posture
If poor posture is the problem, these tips can help:
- Relax your shoulders
- Keep your ears in line with your shoulders to avoid bending your neck
- Adjust your screen slightly below eye level to avoid tilting your head
- Use a comfortable and supportive desk chair
- Rest your feet flat on the floor
Consider Blue Light Blocking Glasses
Research shows mixed results on whether or not blue light glasses relieve digital eye strain.
Even so, many eye doctors recommend blue light blocking glasses or blue light screen protectors for digital devices. Studies haven’t shown any disadvantages to using blue light blocking lenses.
When to See a Doctor
You should schedule a vision exam if you’re experiencing digital eye strain symptoms. There’s a strong chance you need a new or updated vision prescription.
Computer vision syndrome usually resolves or becomes less of a burden when people make the lifestyle changes listed above.
Call your eye doctor if your symptoms worsen or persist. They may recommend vision therapy or a specific type of eye drops.
You should also call your eye doctor if you experience:
- Sudden vision changes
- An increase in eye floaters or flashes
- Unexplained eye pain that doesn’t go away
These may be signs of an underlying eye health problem or medical condition that needs treatment.
Computer vision syndrome (CVS) describes a range of symptoms resulting from using electronic screens for an extended period. Digital eye strain is another name for this condition that includes all digital displays, such as tablets, e-readers, and smartphones.
Common symptoms of CVS include visual fatigue, dry eyes, and back and neck pain. Untreated vision problems are a major cause of CVS. Other causes, such as glare, are often easy to remedy.
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