Technology. People today are literally attached at the hip to various forms of technology.  A person is likely to have a smart phone, tablet, and computer. When they are not using one device they are likely using another. In many cases, people are using multiple devices at once. Therefore, it only makes sense that more people are suffering from computer vision syndrome symptoms.

Background of Computer Vision Syndrome Symptoms

Have you been on a bus or subway lately?  How about the waiting room at the doctor’s office?  At any point if you were to look around what are people doing?  In most cases, they are staring at their phone or tablet. Most people working are tied to their computers the entire time they are at the office.  Even those who have careers that allow them to work at home are constantly looking at their screen. Right now, you are using a phone, tablet, or computer to read this article.  It’s estimated that the average American worker spends approximately seven hours per day with their face in front of a computer screen for work purposes. This excludes any type of tablet or smart phone usage not related to work.

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People who spend an extended amount of time looking at their phone, tablet, and/or computer are subject to Computer Vision Strain Syndrome, also commonly referred to as Digital Eye Strain.  Those who excessively use technology may experience significant eye discomfort and vision problems due to the “strain” it causes. There is a positive correlation to the amount of time a person spends looking at a screen and the level of discomfort and potential eye problems they experience.

Symptoms of Computer Vision Strain Syndrome

As with any medical condition, the symptoms and causes of computer eye syndrome will fluctuate from person to person due to genetics and other external factors such as the quality and/or type of technology used.  For instance, one person may be able to stare at a computer for eight straight hours each day for their entire career and never experience any symptoms; whereas another person may start to experience eye discomfort only after a few short months of starting a job where extended computer use is required.

The list below exhibits common symptoms which are associated with Computer Vision Strain Syndrome:

  • Eyestrain- this is a condition when your eyes start to hurt and cause difficulty focusing. You’ll feel discomfort, and many people want to close their eyes to try and work out the pain.  Burning, itching, watery, or dry eyes can all signal eye strain caused by looking at screens for too long.
  • Headaches- It is reported that more than half of people who utilize a computer regularly for work purposes experience frequent headaches.  The headaches experienced are a byproduct of the eyestrain mentioned above. However, there are other factors at play which may also be causing headaches which will be covered in this article.

What is Computer Vision Strain Syndrome & what causes it?

Computer Vision Syndrome Symptoms

There are multitude of reasons which may lead to symptoms of Computer Vision Strain Syndrome.  It is common knowledge that viewing any form of technology places extra strain on your eyes. If you were to print this article and read it on paper it would not strain your eye as much as whatever device you’re using to read this article now.  However, this is not a reality in the world we live. Could you imagine what your boss would say if you requested to print every email instead of reading it directly from your computer or phone? Paper and ink cost money which eat into profits and budgets.  

Companies, nonprofits, and even governments are looking for ways to eliminate paper and ink as they know it drives up costs and is bad for the environment.  There are agencies now that purchase tablets for every board member, so they may receive and read materials on their assigned tablet compared to having to print hundreds or thousands of pages to distribute at the meeting.

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Reading letters on a screen is significantly different than on a printed page.  The letters on the electronic device are typically not as precise or sharply defined.  Additionally, the level of the letter’s contrast to the background is reduced and the glare and reflections may also make viewing more difficult. As a result, your eyes experience strain, or computer eye syndrome.

Take a second to think about how you type versus the way you write.  You probably don’t think about it, but there are differences in regard to the viewing distances and angles used.  When you are typing you are typically further away from your computer screen and looking straight ahead, which is causing your eyes to focus harder.  However, when you are writing on traditional paper, your eyes are closer to the actual paper and are focused at an angle. Also, while writing your head is more likely to shift around to view at different angles which also reduces the burden on your eyes. Just giving your eyes a break from the same angle can reduce the tension buildup your eyes experience.

computer eye syndrome symptomsIf you have any form of a vision problem, the impacts of technology will only increase the tension technology bestows upon your eyes.  People who have eye issues which have not been adequately identified and treated are of the greatest risk of developing Computer Vision Strain symptoms and long-term problems as they are only multiplying one problem on top of another.  

Oddly enough, if you have glasses or contact lenses they may not be suited to prevent Computer Vision Strain Syndrome like you may think.  Corrective lenses, whether it be in the form of glasses or contact lenses, are made to improve quality of vision in everyday life but they are not necessarily targeted to assist in reading technology.  Essentially, just because you have corrective lenses does not mean you’re off the hook for developing Computer Vision Strain Syndrome.

The corrective lenses a person has may not be suitable for someone to view their computer.  Think near-sightedness versus far-sightedness, as each condition is treated with different types of corrective lenses.  People wearing corrective lenses have reported that they often have to tilt their heads at odd angles to reduce eye tension.  While this may temporarily alleviate ailments of Computer Vision Strain Syndrome it is only leading to other problems in the body such as muscle spasms or aches in the neck, shoulder, or back.

What is usually the first thing people think of when they hear someone complain of pain associated with using a computer too much?  Most people will think of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome due to typing in a repetitive manner. It is little known knowledge that your eyes also become tired as they have to follow the same path on the computer screen over and over again for hours at a time.  While some people, such as graphic designers, utilize software in odd and creative ways your typical person who works in an office is using a word processor, spreadsheet, or email for 90% of their daily activities. Your eyes are moving left to right, left to right, etc.  Even reading this article your eyes have followed the same rhythm and pattern.

The eye strain associated with utilizing technology is not just related to the computer.  Most workers are looking down at notepads or other paper documents and then transferring over to what is on their computer screen.  You were taking notes at a meeting and now you have to write a summary of a new proposal on your laptop. Your eye muscles must react and work harder to move from the screen to the notepad, time and time again.

How to Prevent Computer Vision Strain Syndrome

what is computer vision syndrome symptoms

As with most things in this world, technology can be a safe and wonderful tool when used correctly.  Also, technology has become a part of both our personal and professional lives which does not seem to be disappearing anytime in the near future.  Therefore, people should take preventative measures to minimize the risk of getting Computer Vision Strain Syndrome. The sections below offer advice and tips to reduce risks, as well as Computer Vision Strain Syndrome symptoms.

  • Check the lighting in your area.  Eyestrain may be the result of bright light coming either from the outside or interior lighting.  It is recommended that when you are using technology that the ambient lighting should be nearly half as bright as what is typically found in most office spaces.  A good tip would be to eliminate as much exterior light coming through windows by installing or closing drapes, shades, or blinds. If your office has windows, it’s recommended to place your computer screen, so the windows are to the side of the monitor instead of being directly in front of or behind it.  Also, take steps to reduce interior lighting by using fewer or lower wattage bulbs.
  • Glare can cause eyestrain.  The glare can be from the walls, décor, finished surfaces, or even reflections via your computer screen.  Unless you work in an area which has absolutely no furniture and nothing on the walls you need to examine how to minimize potential glare.  The best advice is to search for an effective anti-glare screen to place on your computer monitor. And, if your budget allows, replace bright walls with a darker color or at least coat surfaces with a matte finish to diminish potential glare.  One upside to wearing glasses is that you can purchase lenses with anti-reflective coating. This type of coating will also reduce the amount of glare, thus leading to less eyestrain.
  • Set your computer to reduce your risk of developing computer vision strain syndrome.  Go to “settings” to make your computer more “eye friendly”. It’s impossible to provide step-by-step instructions in this article as there are so many computer brands and operating systems and the steps to take are not the same.  However, this will provide a general oversight of useful steps.
    1. The first is to adjust the brightness of your screen so that it is somewhat similar to the brightness around you.  
    2. Second, look to adjust both the size and contrast if you’re reading or writing longer documents.  Try to go for black print on a white background to maximize comfort.
    3. Finally, you need to lower the color temperature settings.  Without getting too technical, essentially, color temperature describes the spectrum of visible light emitted from your screen.  Lowering the color temperature decreases the amount of light emitted by the display allowing for more comfort and less eyestrain.
  • Take a few minutes to just blink.  It’s been found that when people are engulfed in technology they tend to blink significantly less, which can lead to a host of issues.  In addition to blinking less it’s also been determined that when a person does blink when using technology, it is only a partial closure.  Blinking is important as it moistens the eyes. This moisture assists in preventing both dryness and irritation. It is recommended that you should take a break from your computer, tablet, phone, or whatever piece of technology you’re using every 20 minutes.  Try to blink 10 times straight and leave your eyes closed on the tenth time for at least 30 seconds. This simple exercise alone can help rewet your eyes and prevent dry eyes and/or eyestrain.
  • While not directly related to technology, be cognizant of the air quality in your working environment.  Crowded office areas, especially in certain climates, are notorious for having very dry air, which will only serve to further dry out your eyes.  
  • Exercise your eyes to make them healthier.  Yes, you read that right. It’s common practice to exercise all other body parts to make them stronger so why not exercise your eyes as well?  There are many different exercise routines available on the internet to help with eye strength. A simple web search of “eye exercises” will yield numerous results.
  • How many breaks do you take a day?  Do you know or just get up whenever you have to?  Other than lunch, it’s hypothesized that most workers only take two 15 to 20 minutes breaks a day while at the office.  Remember, people use technology outside of the office as well. A best practice to reduce eyestrain and other symptoms related to Computer Vision Strain Syndrome is to take four or five additional five-minute breaks from looking at your screen.

symptoms of computer vision syndrome

The goal is to simply get away from technology.  Go grab a coffee, talk to a co-worker, or just walk to the supply closet and back.  Even in more stringent office settings where you may have a micro-manager watching or questioning your every move, just head to the bathroom.  Hopefully you’re not working at a place that treats you like you’re in middle school needing a hall pass. If you are really concerned about the issue of having Computer Vision Strain Syndrome, then you may want to request a note from your optometrist advising your employer to accommodate periodic amounts of time which you are to be away from your computer due to your condition.  If your agency has a Human Resources department, give that note to them. As a result, you’re more than likely going to get that accommodation for whatever amount and length of time recommended.

  • If you’re fortunate enough to work for an agency with a Human Resources department you should request an ergonomic assessment of your workstation.  What is an ergonomic assessment? Well, a trained professional will ask you to explain any health problems or issues you are experiencing and assess your workstation.  They may find that your computer chair or monitor needs to be higher or lower. How far is your head from the screen? What position is your computer screen at? All of these things can cause eye strain, neck strain, and so forth. This article won’t provide direct guidance, but you can search online for recommendations of how to conduct your own ergonomic assessment of your workstation to identify potential problems and implement recommendations.
  • Do you know what type of computer monitor you have?  You should be using an LCD monitor screen, or something of higher value.  The old computer monitors, the tube-style ones, have flickering screens which are associated with extreme eyestrain.
  • Last, but certainly not least, it is imperative that you have regular and comprehensive eye exams.  This is the absolute best way to not only prevent Computer Vision Strain Syndrome but also to identify and/or treat other present conditions.  It is strongly recommended that people who use computers on a daily basis have an annual eye exam to check for decreases in vision or problems which have come about due to excessive technology use.  

During your exam with the optometrist, be completely truthful regarding your technology habits, not only at work but at home as well.  If you consider a break from your computer at work means pulling out your phone to check social media, your optometrist needs to know the extent of screen time as they may be able to recommend eye drops along with other corrective or preventative measures.

How is Computer Vision Strain Syndrome Diagnosed?

We’ve already mentioned how important it is to have annual eye examinations with an optometrist.  That’s because Computer Vision Strain Syndrome can only be officially diagnosed by an optometrist.  During the examination you may encounter the following:

  • They will likely start by examining your medical history to determine if any of your symptoms may be the cause of general health problems, results of medication, or other external factors.
  • The actual “eye exam”, formally known as a visual acuity measurement, is used to assess if vision has been affected.  This process allows them to determine the quality of your eyesight.
  • Next, the refraction portion takes place in which they’ll search for the appropriate corrective lenses (prescription) you need.  This is the part where you’ll look at letters and words to see how much you can see using different lenses. Finally, the optometrist will test how well your eyes focus, move, and generally work as a team.  Each optometrist has their own methods for this test. Be prepared as some doctors may use drops to conduct the necessary tests. The drops temporarily keep the eyes from changing focus while testing is being administered.

At the conclusion of the examination the optometrist will provide the results of the tests, conclude whether or not you have Computer Vision Strain Syndrome, and provide a recommended course of action for improvement.

Is Computer Vision Syndrome Permanent?

Fortunately, there is no conclusive evidence that Computer Vision Strain Syndrome is permanent or causes any long-term damage.  The important takeaway though is that once symptoms have been identified, or the actual syndrome has been diagnosed, proper protocols are taken in order to treat the condition and associated discomfort. Otherwise, other symptoms will continue.

Computer Eye Syndrome Treatment

Computer Vision Strain Syndrome is a condition caused by excessive use of technology which negatively impacts eye health in a variety of ways.  Fortunately, the condition is not permanent nor causes long-term damage and it is treatable. However, the uncomfortable and sometimes painful conditions caused by Computer Vision Strain Syndrome will not subside until you take corrective measures which are listed above in this article.  Computer eye syndrome treatment includes using eye drops, taking breaks from technology, and buying protective glasses that block harmful blue lights.

Related Article: Eye Strain – Signs, Symptoms, & Treatments For One of The Most Common Ailments

The most important thing a person can do anytime they are concerned about the health of their eyes is schedule an eye examination with an optometrist for a full assessment.  During this assessment the optometrist can identify whether or not Computer Vision Syndrome is present as well as identify corrective actions you can take to alleviate Computer Vision Strain Syndrome symptoms.  

As previously mentioned in this article, it is strongly recommended that anyone who utilizes technology on a daily basis get an annual eye examination with an optometrist.  Make sure to be honest regarding your usage of technology not only at work and on a computer screen but also to that of smart phone usage. After all, the impact of technology on your eyes is not limited to just computer screens, but includes tablets and smart phones as well.

Dr. Barry

Dr. Barry

December 11, 2018