To understand why you experience eye strain because of computer vision syndrome, you need to first understand what it is, what causes it and how long it can last for. Then, you will be equipped to combat the same.
What is Computer Vision Syndrome?
Computer Vision Syndrome describes a group of eye and vision-related problems caused by prolonged computer, laptop, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use. Especially for too long without a break, without blinking enough, at an improper distance, or before sleep.
The symptoms include dry eyes or headaches, along with other kinds of strain that lead to overall tiredness and fatigue.
While you can make the recommended lifestyle and environmental changes recommended for CVS without a diagnosis, an optometrist or ophthalmologist will be able to tell you if CVS is impacting your vision, making a refraction error worse (like temporary myopia), and what else you can do about it, like using special blue light-filtering glasses or attending visual therapy sessions to protect your eyes.
Known as a highly repetitive strain injury, it seriously affects your vision, along with other aspects of your physical health. The condition is also called digital eye strain. It involves eye, head, and neck discomfort associated with using computers, tablets, smartphones, or e-readers that emit specific frequencies of blue light, using the eyes in specific patterns like reading left to right repeatedly, and trying to focus on bright objects that may be too small or too far away, like text on a small screen.
The average worker spends seven hours a day in front of a screen of some kind —which is a white collar labor. This is unavoidable to many as communication with loved ones and hobbies like games have bled into digital screen too.
Using digital screens puts a particular type of strain on the eyes that reading and writing tasks without computers do not. With digital screens becoming increasingly important parts of our lives, it is equally important to know the symptoms of CVS and how to reduce the impact this kind of strain has on your vision.
Reading words on a computer screen or a digital screen produces blue light, which is brighter and more intense than the yellow spectrum of light associated with daylight or some types of lightbulbs. Letters on a computer screen are not as defined as those on a printed page. Glare on the screen from bright lights or reflections on the screen may make it harder to stare at the screen when you need to look at the text or images for a longer period of time. Moreover, the back-and-forth motion of your eyes across a screen can be very repetitive, leading to specific muscle strain.
The distance between your eyes and your computer can also contribute to computer vision syndrome. While you can safely hold a newspaper, magazine, or notebook closer to your face to see what you’re doing, the viewing range that is safe and effective for a computer screen is different. Your chair or desk may be at the wrong height for you, which contributes to difficulty seeing. That can also cause other types of physical strain like neck or shoulder tension, which increases muscle tension elsewhere, including around your eyes.
Lastly, if you do not get regular vision exams to manage existing eye problems, or you have an undiagnosed eye condition affecting your vision, struggling to read words on a computer screen can make eye strain worse.
Symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome
Let’s say you spend two or more consecutive hours in front of a computer per day, you may develop computer vision syndrome (CVS). In that case, symptoms can include the following:
- Eye strain
- Blurry vision
- Dry eyes
- Eye fatigue
- Neck and shoulder pain related to head and eye tension
- Motion sickness
- Tiredness after working with a digital screen for too long.
Causes of Computer Vision Syndrome
Often, CVS results from a combination of these issues:
- Poor lighting in the room.
- Glare from the digital screen.
- Improper viewing distance, either too close or too far away.
- Poor seated posture.
- Uncorrected vision problems.
- Blinking less than normal.
Your seat may cause you to tilt forward, you may be sitting in too dark a room, and a refractive error like nearsightedness may be getting worse, for example. Many people who stare fixated in concentration at what they are working on do not blink enough. This can easily be a very common cause of dry eye and eye strain among those using bright digital displays. Also did you know that an average healthy eye should blink 15 times per minute, but people who use computers or laptops are likely to blink a third as often while they are working.
Reading, writing, or performing close activities like sewing can also cause eye strain, but computer vision syndrome is unique in both causes and daily impact. With smaller, portable screens being used more often, you may add additional strain to your eyes, neck, head, and shoulders by viewing tablets or phones at uncomfortable angles.
What happens if you don’t treat Computer Vision Syndrome?
Most symptoms associated with CVS are temporary, and they go away a few hours after you stop using the digital screen. If problems leading to consistent eye strain are not resolved, repeated experience of these issues can lead to reduced visual acuity after stopping work on the screen, and this may get worse.
Research through a study had found that most people who used flat screens as video display units (VDUs) reported eye symptoms of some type. This could lead to eye strain, including CVS.
Out of 116 participants, 72 percent reported eye symptoms after using flat screens for an extended period; 23 percent reported moderate to severe symptoms, indicating that eye strain lasted after using the screens and impacted their life.
14 percent reported tired eyes.
12 percent reported sensitivity to bright light.
10 percent said they had blurry vision in the distance (temporary myopia).
9 percent said they had dry eye, irritated or burning eyes, or other eye strain.
8 percent said they had difficulty refocusing from one distance to another or experiencing a headache
About 4 percent said they had blurry vision at close or intermediate distances (temporary hyperopia).
Another study found that about 20 percent of regular computer users experienced transient myopia, or temporary nearsightedness, after an extended period of using their computers. Accommodative problems involving the middle structures of the eye, like the lens, and surrounding eye muscles, which are overworked to focus on the specific task in front of you. Other problems can be caused by ocular surface mechanisms. Extended periods of suffering from dry eyes due to not blinking enough can increase irritation and inflammation, which may trigger further conditions including uveitis.
Inadequate quality of sleep and insomnia are other issues associated with digital eye strain. One study found that 80 percent of Americans report using digital devices, including television, at least an hour before going to bed. The blue light emitted from such devices can trigger a stronger sense of wakefulness in the brain, which reduces the ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. The truth is that 55 percent of humans will use some kind of digital screen within an hour after they wake up, which only ADDS to higher risk of eye strain throughout the day.
Combat Computer Vision Syndrome
Treating Computer Vision Syndrome involves major lifestyle adjustments
Lifestyle Challenge 1: Do you have vision problems from refractive errors like farsightedness or myopia? Get it checked out.
Lifestyle Challenge 2: Also, coming back to inadequate focusing in the eyes or eye coordination problems, and aging eyes, including the development of presbyopia, can all contribute to an increased risk of eye strain. So this goes without saying, avoid using a computer for a lengthy period of time.
Lifestyle Challenge 3: Another method of preventing this type of eye strain is the 20-20-20 Rule. Work on a digital screen for 20 minutes, then take a break for 20 seconds, preferably looking at something 20 feet away.
Lifestyle Challenge 4: Immediately adjust the level of your screen in relation to your eyes to reduce the overall strain on your body, not just your eyesight. Sit at an arm’s length of 25 inches from your computer screen. It is a recommended safety distance.
Lifestyle Challenge 5: Antiglare screens can help to reduce or prevent CVS.
Lifestyle Challenge 6: Ensure the light level in the room around your workspace is appropriate can also help to manage eye strain.
Lifestyle Challenge 7: When you use a computer screen for a long time, you may not blink enough because you are concentrating on your work. This can lead to temporary dry eyes. Or can cause irritation and inflammation of the eye, in the long term, if not treated.
Lifestyle Challenge 8: Not only are short breaks needed you must apply eye drops if your eyes feel too dry, itchy, or irritated. If you have chronic dry eye, you may consider using a humidifier for the room.
If prevention methods are not enough, and you are sure you have the correct prescription for glasses or contact lenses, you may need to ask about special lens designs. There are specific lenses for glasses that reduce the amount of blue light from computer screens, the benefit is reduced eye strain and improves sleep because it does not impact the circadian rhythm as much after dark.
Follow the advice and instructions from your optometrist and bring about lifestyle changes to manage computer vision syndrome. If you are still struggling with pain, blurry vision, and dry eye, you may need to undergo visual therapy called vision training. This is a structured program that teaches you routines and exercises to improve your visual abilities, especially while you work.