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5 common digital eye strain symptoms and how to treat them

5 common digital eye strain symptoms and how to treat them
(Image credit: Getty)

Digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome (CVS), is caused by prolonged periods of time at a digital screen, and not only adds to the stress of the working day, but can also cause blurry vision and pain in your shoulders. You weren’t expecting that last bit, were you? Many of the best eyeglasses online brands sell blue-light blocking lenses, but the jury is out on how effective they are. 

With a large percentage of us now working remotely, beavering away on our home computers – and that’s on top of using other devices – it’s easy to forget to take a break from the screen. This is why it’s important to recognize the symptoms of digital eye strain and know when to take action. Here we’ll run through what causes it, as well as the most common symptoms, even if you wear contact lenses, plus tips on how to help prevent computer vision syndrome from worsening.

What is digital eye strain?

According to guidance published by the American Optometric Association (AOA), “The average American worker spends seven hours a day on the computer either in the office or working from home.”

Dr Andy Hepworth, BSc, of Essilor also told us that, “Computer Vision Syndrome is a condition resulting from looking at a digital device for uninterrupted periods of time.” 

Digital eye strain is categorized by a group of symptoms, which can include blurry vision, headaches and dry eyes, but the good news is that with a little awareness and some simple practical changes, you can alleviate much of the discomfort. Medicine Net says that, “although eye strain can be uncomfortable, it does not lead to any eye damage.”

What causes digital eye strain?

The main cause of digital eye strain is simple: too much time spent staring at a screen without taking regular breaks. Factors such as screen glare and poorly defined text can cause excess strain on the eyes, making you adjust your posture and get too close to the screen. This can cause your eyes to refocus and move differently, thus adding to the strain.

The symptoms are made worse if you have uncorrected visual problems, such as short sight, so if you think this might be the case, it’s worth checking in with your eye doctor and not leaving it any longer. If you don’t yet have coverage, take a look at our guide to the best vision insurance to see how it could benefit you.  

According to the Mayo Clinic, digital eye strain symptoms can also be made worse by dry air conditions, such as from a nearby fan or heater.

A man dressed in a blue shirt suffering two common digital eye strain symptom, headaches and blurred vision

(Image credit: Getty)

5 digital eye strain symptoms to look out for

Computer vision syndrome can be recognized by several symptoms, but the good news is they are easy to spot. Here are the five main digital eye strain symptoms to look out for:

1. Headache
While there are plenty of other causes of headaches, digital eye strain usually causes headaches when associated with underlying eyesight issues, such as short sight or astigmatism. Plus, if your eyes are working too hard to see images and text that are already blurry on the screen, this will likely contribute to headaches. 

2. Dry eyes
When we work at a screen we tend to focus more and blink less. However, blinking is essential for producing tears that lubricate the eyes and keep dust and other irritants off our eyeballs, which also prevents infection. So the less we blink, the drier our eyes become.

3. Sore neck and shoulders
If we struggle to see at a screen, we tend to alter our posture to hunch over and move in closer. This will have an impact on our posture, causing soreness and aches from our jaw right down to our lower back, but more often than not it’s our neck and shoulders that suffer. Again, there are other causes for sore neck and shoulders, so if you suspect it isn’t due to digital eye strain, speak to your doctor. To ease muscle tension at home, try using one of the best handheld massagers.

4. Difficulty focusing
Text and images on the screen can often become blurry as the eye struggles to focus. This is often due to a poor desk setup with the incorrect desk height and monitor distance. Screen brightness levels that are too high and text that is too small can also contribute to the eyes having difficulty focusing.

5. Blurred vision
If you are experiencing blurred vision, speak to your eye doctor to see whether CVS is the culprit or whether something else is at play. North Carolina Optometric Society warns that, “If nothing is done to address the cause of the problem, the symptoms will continue to recur and perhaps worsen with future digital screen use.” 

How to treat digital eye strain at home, and when to see a doctor

There is plenty you can do to relieve the symptoms of eye strain and help prevent it from happening in the first place. The ‘20-20-20’ rule is commonly used to help people take frequent breaks from the screen. This involves taking a 20-second break, every 20 minutes, to look at something 20 feet away. This refocuses the eyes, and, when done regularly, reduces eye strain. Smartphone apps, such as Eye Care 20 20 20, can remind you to take breaks throughout the day.

Other things you can do include adjusting your monitor settings, tweaking the brightness, contrast and font size to what is more comfortable for you. Also look at where your monitor is positioned. Spine Universe advises placing your monitor slightly below eye level, about 20-28 inches away from your face. If you’re craning your neck or straining your eyes to see the screen, it’s too far away. 

Having your desk at the correct height is also essential. You can easily adjust your sitting or standing desk height with an electric desk, with presets that elevate straight to your optimum setting every time. 

You may also benefit from sprinkling some neck and shoulder rolls and stretches throughout your working day, and remembering to blink often. Here Dr Hepworth recommends  eye yoga: “Look to the left, hold the position, repeat looking right. Look up, hold the position, repeat looking down.” You should do this four times in a row, closing your eyes in between each repetition.

If you find there are no improvements with your digital eye strain, it could be time to see a doctor or visit the optician to discuss using eye drops or wearing a form of corrective eyewear.