How to Protect Against Digital Eye Strain

Phones, laptops, tablets, dashboards, smart watches—we’re surrounded by screens. That explains why our eyes are worn out by the end of the day. The Vision Council reports that 80 percent of adults stare at a digital screen for more than two hours a day. And nearly 60 percent of them experience symptoms of digital eye strain. Find out how to recognize when you’ve had too much screen time and what you can do when you’ve lingered too long.

Digital devices are particularly problematic when it comes to eye strain. That’s because people tend to blink less when using them. That prevents your eyes from getting the moisture they need. Add to that, a screen that’s too close/far away or glare from a window and you’re asking for trouble.

Symptoms of Eye Strain

The first step in dealing with eye strain is to recognize the signs (so you can take action). The Mayo Clinic website lists these common symptoms:

  • Sore, tired, burning or itching eyes
  • Watery or dry eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Headache
  • Sore neck, shoulders or back
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty concentrating 

How to Treat/Prevent Eye Strain

The good news is eye strain isn’t serious and will likely go away once you give your eyes a break. But continued strain can signal a more serious problem that requires a doctor’s care. Here are some tips to give your eyes their needed rest:

  • Screen Up – Position your screen so it’s at eye level (or slightly below). Adjusting your chair can help you achieve that optimal position. Keep the screen at an arm’s length distance. Take advantage of any settings to adjust the contrast and brightness of the screen. Some allow you to enlarge the type so it’s easier to read. Newer devices allow you to adjust the color temperature (or blue light). That’s helpful if you’re working in low light or in the evening.
  • Throw some shade – Too much light can cause glare making it difficult to see what’s on your screen. Look above and behind you to see where the light is coming from. Adjust the blinds to control sunlight or turn off overhead lights (especially fluorescent ones). A glare screen filter can also help. If you need light to read, consider task lighting that shines only on your book. Some people also use a document holder to keep the book in one place so you don’t have to readjust or turn your neck.
  • Give yourself a break – The Mayo Clinic suggests using the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. That change in perspective gives your eyes something different to focus on and can reduce fatigue. Consider taking a break to stand up and walk about. A NIOSH study reported that discomfort and eye strain were significantly reduced when computer workers took four additional five-minute "mini-breaks" throughout their work day.
  • Just blink – It sounds simple but remembering to blink lets your body provide the natural moisture your eyes need to stay lubricated. Artificial tear drops or a room humidifier can provide a similar function but your eye lids are always there when you need them. 
  • Gear up properly – Some contact wearers report increased strain and dryer eyes during extended screen sessions. They might consider wearing eye glasses during those times. Did you know there are special glasses just for computer use? They have an anti-reflective coating on the lenses and are tinted to filter out blue light. Even non-glass wearers find these helpful.

These ideas can help you better manage eye strain from excessive screen time. But if you experience persistent strain, you should schedule a comprehensive eye exam. Be ready to describe your screen habits to the eyecare professional. That includes how far your eyes are from the screen.

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