Computers are a wonderful invention, enabling users to access and use an enormous array of software, listen to music, watch movies, play video games, browse the web, post to social media, and so much more. It’s hard to imagine a world in which people had to go to the library to conduct research, and then had to type that high school or college paper on a typewriter! Of course, these days, many people use tablets and smartphones to surf the Internet, listen to music and videos, and other activities. In comparison to computer monitors, these screens are often downright tiny. While computer vision syndrome is a well-known condition associated with staring at computer screens, an increased reliance on smartphones has led to a greater number of individuals suffering from digital eye strain, which is essentially the same thing. These statistics certainly help explain why computer vision syndrome has become an endemic problem.
- About 80% of American adults reported using digital devices for more than two hours per day.
- Nearly 67% percent of American adults used two or more devices simultaneously, and 59% of those said they experienced symptoms of digital eye strain.
- In the U.S., the average worker spends seven hours a day on the computer, either in the office or working from home.
- As of January 1, 2019, 4.1 billion people across the world were accessing the Internet, including 81% of the entire population of North America.
- In 2015, 60% of children ages 3 to 17 used the Internet at home, nearly six times as many as in 1997, while nearly 80% had access to home computers.
- More than 70% of American adults said their children were exposed to more than two hours of screen time a day, yet nearly one-quarter weren’t concerned about the potential repercussions on their children’s vision.
What is Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)?
Also called digital eyestrain, CVS is a group of problems resulting from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader, and smartphone use. Poor lighting, screen glare, improper viewing distance, poor posture, and uncorrected vision problems are contributing factors. Compared to printed text, images on a screen are comprised of thousands of tiny spots, which puts additional stress on the eyes. Digital devices also emit blue light which causes the eyes to refract, resulting in surrounding objects going in and out of focus. To compensate for this, people squint, which contributes to digital eye strain.
Computer Vision Syndrome Symptoms
Digital eye strain impacts four out of five people in the U.S. who use computers or handheld devices. The problem is so prevalent that is has been the subject of numerous scientific studies. A recent study on more than 900 Korean children ages 7-12 found that nearly 7% had dry eye disease, and of those, 97% spent an average of 3.2 hours a day on their smartphones. In comparison, 55% of children without symptoms only spent 37 minutes a day on average on their smartphones. Staring at screens reduces blinking, which causes tear film to evaporate faster, thereby increasing the risk of dry eye syndrome. The following ocular and non-ocular symptoms are signs of CVS:
- Eye fatigue
- Dry eyes (gritty or burning)
- Irritated or red eyes
- Blurry vision
- Neck and/or shoulder stiffness and pain
Helpful Prevention Tips
CVS can be prevented by following proper eye care, modifying working environments, and setting and enforcing rules for children and yourself regarding digital device usage.
- Use corrective contacts or eyeglasses for refractive errors such as myopia, astigmatism, and presbyopia to prevent eye symptoms from getting worse.
- Follow the 20/20/20 rule – every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away.
- Avoid prolonged tablet use by switching to a computer screen 20-28 inches away from your eyes.
- Position the monitor 15 to 20 degrees below your eye level, measured from the center of the screen.
- Make an effort to blink more frequently to ensure the front surface of your eyes stays moist. This will help minimize the risk of developing dry eye when using digital devices.
- Clean electronic device screens often and reduce overhead lighting to minimize glare.
- Increase text size on devices to make content easier to read
- Take frequent short breaks to restore and relax the eyes, thereby preventing eye strain and visual fatigue