Between using the computer, watching TV, surfing on our tablets, reading on the e-reader, and texting on our phones in between, there isn’t much time in the day that we are not looking at screens. What kind of impact does this have on our eyes?

Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS, can affect people of all ages that view electronic screens for prolonged periods of time. Symptoms of CVS include but are not limited to:

  • Eyestrain
  • Headaches
  • Blurry or fluctuating vision
  • Dry, burning, red and/or itchy eyes
  • Neck and shoulder pain

Why does this happen?

Viewing an electronic screen often makes the eyes work harder to focus, which changes our natural blinking patterns. It is these unique visual demands of computer and screen viewing that make many individuals susceptible to the development of vision-related symptoms. Uncorrected vision problems can increase the severity of these symptoms. Even those who wear glasses or contact lenses to see clearly at distance or for reading may not be wearing the correct in-between prescription for computers. Poor posture when at the computer, especially if held for prolonged periods of time, can often cause headaches, neck pain and shoulder pain. Dry room conditions and lack of blinking can cause dry, burning, red or itchy eyes.

What can I do about it?

The best thing you can do for your eyes whenever you are having a vision or eye health issue is to go see your local Doctor of Optometry. This is the person who will be able to diagnose any underlying vision or ocular health problems that may be preventing you from using your electronic devices to your maximum potential. They can also give you more specific tips on preventing the symptoms that you have been experiencing from CVS or any other eye related condition. Other things you can do are:

  • Make sure that your computer, chair and desk are positioned correctly for you. Most people find that having the computer screen 20-28 inches from the eyes and 15-20 degrees below eye level as measured from the centre of the screen is most comfortable. If you are looking at printed materials while using the computer, try to have the printed materials propped up beside the monitor so that you don’t have to move your head too much when looking back and forth between the two.
  • Lighting is very important. Glare from overhead lighting or windows can be distracting and also reduces the screen contrast. This may cause trouble with eye focusing.
  • New research has been focusing on blue light as a threat to visual health. In particular, high energy visible light. This type of light is not just prevalent outdoors, but also emitted by digital devices such as computer screens, tablets, smart phones and televisions. Research is currently investigating the effects of this type of light on the health of the eye, specifically the lens and the retina. In the past 2 years, several optical companies have developed lens products that are specifically designed to protect the eye from these types of radiation.
  • Taking breaks is very important in preventing the symptoms of CVS. Remember the 20/20/20 rule! Ideally, for every 20 minutes of screen viewing, 20 seconds should be spent looking at something further than 20 feet away, to give the eyes a chance to refocus.
  • Blinking is often affected by prolonged computer use. The average person blinks 15 to 20 times per minute, however in front of a screen this number tends to drop drastically. This may cause dryness, redness, burning or other eye irritations. Consciously remembering to blink may reduce these types of symptoms.

If you feel that CVS may be affecting your life or work, please go to see your local optometrist!

By Dr. Cassandra Chung