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How Screen Time Affects Our Vision
Posted by Emily Pazel

Have you ever heard of computer vision syndrome(CVS)? Although it might sound completely made up – or maybe even a conspiracy theory – it’s a real thing. Humans are constantly using smartphones, computers, tablets and other devices that have increased the strain on their vision. And because of this, CVS is also referred to as digital eye strain.

Have you ever gone from a job where you used a computer very rarely to a job where you sit in front of one for eight hours? Chances are high that you will be able to feel the difference in your vision after a period of time. The American Optometric Association (AOA) claims that the more time you spend looking at a screen, the higher chances are that you will begin to feel discomfort over time. Whether working from home or at an office, according to the AOA, the average American worker spends roughly seven hours a day on the computer.

But, we all have to work and pay our bills, right? You can’t just opt out of not looking at a computer if that’s part of your job, right? Luckily, there are steps you can take to decrease the risk and maintain a healthy vision. But before we get into those details, let’s start with the basics of CVS.

What does having CVS look like?

Depending on the amount of time you spend staring at a screen typically affects the level of your visual abilities. However, it can make any individual susceptible to the development of CVS, and uncorrected vision problems can increase the severity of symptoms. So, how does it develop?

According to the AOA, staring at a computer or device with a digital screen can make the eyes work harder, causing unique character and high visual demands for people that may spend a lot of time looking at a screen. Eye focusing and eye movements for digital screens can also place additional demands on the visual system, causing symptoms and signs of CVS. The AOA also states:

"In addition, the presence of even minor vision problems can often significantly affect comfort and performance at a computer or while using other digital screen devices. Uncorrected or under corrected vision problems can be major contributing factors to computer-related eye strain. Even people who have an eyeglass or contact lens prescription may find it's not suitable for the specific viewing distances of their computer screen. Some people tilt their heads at odd angles because their glasses aren't designed for looking at a computer or they bend toward the screen in order to see it clearly. Their postures can result in muscle spasms or pain in the neck, shoulder or back."

If you spend more than two or more continuous hours at a computer or using a digital screen device every day, you are at the highest risk for developing CVS.

Common symptoms include:

  • Eyestrain
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry eyes
  • Neck and shoulder pain

These symptoms are most commonly caused by:

  • The screen content being less sharp or focused
  • Poor contrast of the screen’s content against its background
  • Reflections or glare bouncing off the screen
  • Viewing the screen in low light conditions
  • Being too close to or too far from the screen
  • Positing the screen at an angle that causes eye strain
  • Taking insufficient screen breaks

While many of these visual symptoms are only temporary and will decrease after stepping away from your computer or digital device, some people may experience continued reduced visual abilities, such as blurred vision. And if you don’t take proper precautions to address the problem, symptoms will continue to happen and even worsen your vision.

Fortunately, through a comprehensive eye examination, you can get tested for this particular syndrome and proper treatment can be provided to you if it’s necessary. In most cases, getting regular eye care and making changes to how you view your screen can usually alleviate CVS problems.

And – thankfully – there are ways to help alleviate digital eye strain, such as following the AOA’s 20-20-20 rule, which includes: take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes.

Are there other ways to prevent it?

The best way to prevent CVS is to avoid long and uninterrupted periods of digital screen use. However, for many people who work at a computer, this isn’t an option.

Although it might come as common sense, the AOA recommends precautionary measures that you can take such as fixing and adjusting the environment around you to help prevent and reduce symptoms of CVS. This includes:

  • Positioning the screen at the optimal distance, which is around 20-28 inches from the eyes
  • Making sure the screen is at a comfortable angle, with the center of the screen 15-20 degrees below eye level
  • Adequate lighting should be used while viewing digital screens
  • Using an anti glare screen or changing the angle of the screen to avoid glare from lighting
  • While using a chair, your feet should be resting flat on the floor and arms of the chair should be providing support while typing
  • Remembering to blink regularly enough to avoid eye dryness
  • Wearing glasses or lenses to correct any underlying vision problems, if necessary

If you work at a computer for your job, as suggested by the AOA, you should get an eye exam every year as a standard precaution. You can also try taking “task breaks” throughout the day. These “task breaks” include making phone calls or photocopies, consulting with co-workers, or something simple such as getting a glass of water. The point is to do something that won’t cause your eyes to focus on something close up for a short period of time.

If there’s a big takeaway from any of this, it should be to take a deep breath and know that CVS should go away once a person has spent sufficient time away from the computer or other digital screens. Although it sounds scary, it is possible to fix. If your issues continue, however, you should go see a doctor who can prescribe lenses that meet the unique visual demands of viewing a computer, such as special lens designs, lens tints or coatings that may help maximize your visual abilities and comfort.

There’s also a form of therapy called vision therapy that is designed to develop or improve a person’s vision. By doing eye exercises, you can improve eye movement and help with focusing. This might be an option for people that continue to experience CVS or other vision problems despite wearing glasses or contact lenses.

As technology expands, people are spending more time behind digital screens now more than ever and CVS has become a very big cause of eye discomfort after a long day on the job. So, if you find yourself straining or rubbing your eyes after a long day on the job, it’s important to know that you may need to find some ways to correct your vision. Take the time to adjust your settings and better your viewing capacity so that you aren’t forcing your eyes to work harder and further damaging your eyesight. Remember to follow the AOA’s recommended guidelines to ensure that you are taking the best precautions necessary to help.