Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is the term for a group of eye and vision-related problems that develop following the prolonged use of devices with digital screens.
Devices such as computers, tablets, and smartphones put increased demands on a person’s visual system. Using these devices for extended periods without breaks can cause CVS symptoms, including eye strain and headaches.
In this article, we explain what CVS is and outline its causes and symptoms. We also provide tips on how to avoid CVS and when to see a doctor.
What it is?
CVS describes a group of symptoms that occur following the prolonged use of devices with digital screens. Such devices include:
- personal computers
Common symptoms of CVS include eye strain and headaches. A person may also experience neck and shoulder pain as a result of sitting for long periods.
It is not clear how much time a person needs to spend looking at a digital screen to develop CVS. However, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA), longer periods of screen use seem to correlate with higher levels of discomfort.
What is digital eye strain?
Digital eye strain is a group of eye and vision problems. The problems can include eyes that itch and tear and are dry and red. Your eyes may feel tired or uncomfortable.
You may not be able to focus normally. These problems are caused by lots of computers or digital device use. Using e-readers and smartphones may also cause these problems.
These problems have been increasing in frequency over the past few decades. Many people have some symptoms if they use a computer or digital device for long periods of time.
Most computer or digital device users have symptoms at least some of the time. Digital eye strain is very common in both children and adults.
What causes digital eye strain?
For many reasons, reading text on a computer screen or digital device is often harder for the eyes than reading printed text. This is why working on a computer for a few hours may cause symptoms of digital eye strain, but reading a book may not.
Several factors help to cause digital eye strain, such as:
- Screen glare
- Poor lighting
- Poor posture while using a computer
- Viewing a computer at the wrong distance and angle
- Uncorrected vision problems
- A combination of many of these factors
People often blink less when using a computer than when reading printed text. This can cause dry eye, This may contribute to digital eye strain.
Who is at risk for getting digital eye strain?
You may be at greater risk for digital eye strain if you:
- Spend a few hours or more a day at a computer or on a digital device
- Are too close to your computer or digital device screen
- View your computer or digital device at the wrong angle
- Have bad posture while using your computer or digital device
- Have eye problems (even minor ones) not corrected with glasses or contact lenses
- Have a pair of glasses that is not suitable for viewing the distance of your computer
- Don’t take breaks while you are working
You may have an underlying problem with dry eyes. This may make digital eye strain worse or more likely to occur. Dry eyes are more common in women than in men. It also becomes more common with age. Some medicines and health problems make the condition more likely.
For example, if you use antihistamines, you may be at greater risk of having dry eyes. If you have thyroid disease or certain autoimmune diseases, you are also at greater risk of having dry eye.
What are the symptoms of digital eye strain?
Digital eye strain can cause many symptoms, including:
- Blurred vision
- Double vision
- Dry eye
- Eye discomfort
- Eye fatigue
- Eye itching
- Eye redness
- Eye tearing
- Neck and shoulder pain
Most of these symptoms are short-term (temporary). They often lessen or go away when you stop using your computer or device. But symptoms may continue for a longer time.
The severity of symptoms may vary depending on:
- How long you have been using the computer or digital device
- Your underlying eye problems
- Other factors that cause digital eye strain.
Symptoms may get worse if you don’t resolve the problem.
Using a computer or digital device for a long time can also lead to other symptoms. This includes neck and shoulder pain. This is often due to poor alignment and posture when using the computer or digital device. Some healthcare providers call these symptoms part of digital eye strain as well.
How is digital eye strain diagnosed?
Your eye care provider will make a diagnosis based on your health history and a complete eye exam. They will assess if any health problems, medicines, or environmental factors might be contributing to your symptoms.
Your eye care provider may test the sharpness of your vision and how well your eyes focus and work together. For a more detailed exam, your provider may want to dilate (enlarge) your pupils. Then they will use a device (ophthalmoscope) to look at the back of your eye.
In some cases, you may need to get follow-up blood tests for healthcare problems that might be helping to cause your digital eye strain.
How is digital eye strain treated?
Treatment includes creating a better work environment.
- Rest your eyes at least 15 minutes after each 2 hours of computer or digital device use.
- Every 20 minutes, look into the distance at least 20 feet away from the computer or digital device. Do this for at least 20 seconds.
- Enlarge the text on your computer screen or digital device.
- Reduce glare from the light sources in your environment.
- Think about using a screen glare filter.
- Place your screen so that the center of it is about 4 to 5 inches below eye level (about 15 to 20 degrees from the horizontal).
- Place your screen about 20 to 28 inches from your eye.( About arm’s length.)
- Remember to blink often.
- Fix your chair height so your feet can rest comfortably on the floor. Don’t slump over the computer screen.
Making these changes may help eliminate digital eye strain in many people.
Your eye care provider will also need to treat any hidden health problems that may be adding to your digital eye strain. For instance, you might need a new pair of glasses. If you have an underlying dry eye problem, your eye care provider might advise the following:
- Using lubricating drops
- Treating allergies, if you have them
- Creating a more humid work environment
- Drinking more fluids (staying hydrated)
- Taking a prescription medicine to increase tear production
What can I do to prevent digital eye strain?
Create a better work environment to help prevent digital eye strain. If you use glasses or corrective lenses, see your eye care provider at least once a year or as advised for a checkup.
Also, see your healthcare provider regularly. This can help prevent and treat health problems that can cause digital eye strain.
Key points about digital eye strain
- Digital eye strain is a group of related eye and vision problems caused by extended computer or digital device use.
- Symptoms include eye discomfort and fatigue, dry eyes, blurry vision, and headaches.
- Uncorrected vision problems are a major cause.
- Sometimes hidden health problems help to cause it.
- Having a better computer work environment may help improve symptoms.
- Resting your eyes regularly is one of the best ways to prevent and treat digital eye strain.
Computer vision syndrome describes a group of symptoms that can arise as a result of prolonged screen use. Common symptoms of CVS include eye strain and headaches.
CVS can affect anyone who looks at a computer, tablet, or smartphone screen for long periods without breaks. However, it is particularly prevalent among people who have underlying vision problems.
The symptoms of CVS tend to subside once a person has taken a sufficient break from viewing digital screens. People can prevent future episodes by creating a comfortable work environment and adopting habits to maintain good eye health. Following the 20-20-20 rule is an effective way to reduce the risk of eye strain.