Column: Tired eyes: Are screens to blame?


Commentary by Dr. Amy Iddins

As optometrists, we frequently encounter the complaint of “tired eyes” among our patients. In this new era of near constant device use, it comes as no surprise that we are seeing more and more eye-related issues. The sensation of tired eyes can have several root causes, but the most common culprit is digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome.

Symptoms like ocular burning, watering, or irritation often surface after only a few hours of device use. Prolonged use can lead to blurry vision, dry eyes and tension headaches, along with an increase in neck and shoulder pain.

So, what exactly causes our eyes and bodies to react negatively to screens? It is believed that the pixelation of letters on screens degrades sharpness when compared with the crisp lettering of printed documents. You may not notice in the moment, but your eyes are working harder to read the words. Increased glare and poor contrast are also thought to make reading on screens more taxing.

Sitting awkwardly for long periods, sitting too close or too far from your device, and forgetting to blink while engrossed in a bright screen are also main contributors to strain. Lastly, not having the proper glasses prescription can also be an issue, especially when doing near work that requires the eyes to focus.

So, how can we tackle this problem or alleviate its effects? The American Optometric Association recommends implementing the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes that you spend on a screen, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Other options include making a conscious effort to blink more often, using lubricating eye drops and adding glare-eliminating filters to your screens. Many of our patients find it beneficial to use prescription computer glasses with anti-reflective coatings or blue-light filtering properties. The AOA also suggests keeping screens 4 to 5 inches below eye-level and 20 to 28 inches away from the eyes for ideal viewing. Lastly, the crown jewel to soothing strained eyes is obviously limiting screen time altogether.

Wondering if your eye discomfort is a result of computer vision syndrome? Give your optometrist a call to schedule your annual comprehensive eye examination. You can email me at [email protected] with any questions regarding eye strain or other eye-related topics.