Family on devices

Screens have become an essential part of everyday life. From leisure activities like television and video games to online education and remote work, we use screens all the time.

However, excessive screen use can significantly affect eye and vision health.

How Do Screens Affect Our Eyes?

When we stare at screens, our eyes work harder than usual. This is because our eyes need to focus and move more when looking at screens.

Since our eyes work harder to look at screens, prolonged screen usage can contribute to eye health issues.

Screen Time Healthy Habits

According to the National Library of Medicine, you should only spend about 2 hours looking at digital screens. This might come as a shock, considering how often we use screens in our everyday lives. However, creating healthy habits around screen time can help you avoid screen-related issues in the future. Try these strategies to help you limit effects of screen time:

  • Take breaks: many smartphones have the built-in ability to set limits on the amount of time you can use them. They also record the amount of time you spend using them and provide weekly feedback.
  • Practice proper blinking: focusing tasks can lead to reduced blink rates and/or incomplete blinks. During breaks, focus on full blinks where the upper and lower eyelid come in contact with each other in order to spread your tear film over the entire front surface of the eye.
  • Spend time in a ‘Screen-Free’ environment: spending time outdoors, for kids especially, can help limit the urge to continuously look at a television or laptop.
  • Don’t eat and screen at the same time: turn off the television and put away your phones when eating, especially with family and friends. This can help build healthy habits around your screen time.

What Is Digital Eye Strain?

Sometimes, reducing your screen time is not feasible. Often, remote work and education make it challenging to stay within the recommended 2 hours of screen time.

This can lead to health concerns that come in the form of symptoms related to digital eye strain. Digital eye strain is a general, large, encompassing set of visual and ocular symptoms that stem from prolonged digital electronic device use.

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Symptoms of Digital Eye Strain

Beyond feelings of general eye discomfort that might be expected from extended screen use, some symptoms of digital eye strain can include:

  • Eye fatigue: Your eyes can get tired from intense use, causing double vision, headaches, and concentration difficulties.
  • Dryness/burning and irritation: You tend to blink less when staring at a screen, causing your eyes to become dry and irritated. Dry eyes can cause blurred vision, fluctuating vision, redness, and tearing, so it’s important to ensure adequate moisture to the eye.
  • Get enough sleep: Sleeping helps rejuvenate every part of our bodies, including our eyes. Not getting enough sleep means your eyes are less likely to heal from the strains of digital screens.
  • Loss of focus flexibility: Typically, loss of focus flexibility happens as we age, but excessive screen time can impact our ability to adjust our eyes to see at all distances quickly.
  • Nearsightedness: Studies have shown that people, especially children, who spend more time indoors and looking at screens are more likely to develop nearsightedness.

What Causes Digital Eye Strain?

While prolonged use of screens is the general cause of digital eye strain, there are other, more specific contributing factors that cause these symptoms. These factors can include:

  • Constantly focusing and refocusing on your screen.
  • Frequent eye movements.
  • Infrequent blinking of eyes.
  • Reduced contrast level between text and the background of your screen.
  • Screen glare and reflections.
  • Screens being too bright or dim, making it harder to see what is on the screen.

There are also factors that are not specific to our eyes that play a role in digital eye strain. These factors tend to derive from improper posture while looking at screens. Some of these factors can include:

  • Awkward or poor angle of viewing the screen.
  • Being too close or too far away from the screen.
  • Unsuitable chair or table height.

Ways to Treat Digital Eye Strain

There are many ways you can easily avoid digital eye strain and other issues that might arise from spending too much time on your screens. Some ways to do this can include:

  • Check your lighting: Adjust your screen brightness to lessen the strain on your eyes, especially in darker settings. Also, make sure that there is not any glare on your screen from windows or overhead lights.
  • Get enough sleep: Instead of staying up all night on your phone or watching TV, try going to bed earlier or listening to music or white noises to help you fall asleep.
  • Keep a safe distance: The position of your screen, as well as the distance between your screens and your eyes, can impact your eye health. Try keeping your screen about 4-5 inches below your eye level and 20 to 28 inches from your eyes.
  • Limit screen time and take breaks: It’s a good idea to let your eyes rest after long periods. The American Ophthalmological Society recommends using the 20-20-20 Rule to reduce eye strain. Take a break every 20 minutes by looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This gives your eyes a break and allows them to refocus.
  • Protect your eyes: Using glasses with antireflective coating can reduce screen glare and improve visual comfort during screen-time. However, it is important to note that popular blue-light lenses lack enough evidence to prove they help to alleviate symptoms of digital eye strain.
  • Remember to blink: A great way to avoid dry or irritated eyes from screens is to blink frequently. If your eyes start to feel dry and your vision gets blurry, step away and blink to refresh your eyes.
  • Yearly eye exam: Get an annual eye exam so your eye care provider can check your eye health and determine if any eye conditions are developing.

You can easily avoid the effects of too much screen time on your eyes if you take steps to reduce your eye discomfort. If you notice symptoms developing, try the simple tips mentioned above. If your symptoms do not resolve, you could have an underlying eye problem, such as eye muscle imbalance or uncorrected vision, so talk to your primary care provider.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Vision Institute

The UPMC Vision Institute is a national leader in the treatment of eye diseases and disorders. We seek to improve and restore your vision to help your quality of life, diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in both children and adults. Our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We also offer routine eye screenings and have full-scale optical shops. Find an eye expert close to you.

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