According to a recent Nielsen study, American adults spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media. Most of that time, we’re using a computer or smartphone fairly close to our faces.
So, what does all that screen time do to our eyes? And how can you counteract the effects? Let’s walk through the most common questions.
How does screen use affect your eyes?
When we read or scroll through media, we blink less. In fact, we blink half as much as our normal blink rate (approximately 15 times a minute). This causes our eyes to dry out, which can then lead to blurry vision, burning, irritation, heavy or tired eyes, eye strain, and tearing up. With prolonged screen time, many people experience also headaches and neck pain. Collectively, this is often called “computer vision syndrome.”
What could make your eye dryness or strain worse?
Screen time affects us all differently. Here are some factors that might make the dryness or irritation more of a problem - or make it more difficult to use digital devices for a long period of time without symptoms.
- Contact lenses
- Previous LASIK eye surgery
- Medications such as antihistamines or antidepressants
- Low humidity environments with blowing air conditioning or heat
Does screen use cause permanent damage?
For adults, there are no studies indicating that excessive screen use causes permanent eye damage.
However, it’s different for children, since their eyes are still developing. The rapid increase of nearsightedness worldwide has been linked to increased use of and exposure to electronic devices. In the United States and Europe around half of young adults now suffer from myopia compared with 25 percent in the 1970s.
It’s important to set screen limits for children and make sure they get regular eye exams to monitor any changes.
Are certain screens better for your eyes?
There’s really no difference. Whether you’re using computers, tablets, or smart phones, they all affect the eyes the same way. It’s the cumulative impact that creates the problem.
How can you reduce Computer Vision Syndrome?
Naturally, reducing your time in front of a screen will help. But if that’s not possible, here are some steps you can take to lessen the strain.
- Remember the 20-20-20 Rule - Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Taking regular breaks is important for resting the eyes, blinking, and limiting eye strain.
- Blink more – Try an app like EyeLeo, which reminds to take breaks regularly, shows you simple eye exercises, and prevents you from using the computer at break times.
- Try artificial tears – There are lots of moisturizing drops available at the pharmacy. Just don't confuse lubricating eye drops with those formulated to "get the red out." These are not necessarily made to reduce dryness and irritation.
- Use a humidifier – This can counteract the dryness common in most office environments.
- Add a matte screen filter – Light reflecting off walls and finished surfaces can cause a glare. Putting a matte screen over your monitor can deflect some of this glare.
- Position your computer screen correctly – Make sure it's 20 to 24 inches from your eyes. The center of your screen should be about 10 to 15 degrees below your eyes for a comfortable position.
Computer vision syndrome is extremely common. But it’s also treatable. Simple measures like the above can do wonders to relieve the symptoms and prevent further problems. However, if your eyes are consistently dry, sensitive to light, or you’re experiencing persistently blurry vision, be sure to see an eye care specialist for an examination.