Computer Vision Syndrome

March 22, 2017

Computer Vision Syndrome

What is digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain is a group of eye and vision problems. The problems can include eyes that itch and tear and are dry and red. Your eyes may feel tired or uncomfortable. You may not be able to focus normally. These problems are the result of extended computer or digital device use. Use of e-readers and smartphones may also cause these problems.

These problems have been an increasing problem over the past few decades. Many people have some symptoms if they use a computer or digital device for long periods. A majority of computer or digital device users have symptoms at least some of the time. Because many people in the United States use computers often, digital eye strain is very common. Both children and adults can have symptoms of it.

What causes digital eye strain?

For a variety of reasons, reading text on a computer screen or digital device is often more difficult for the eyes than reading printed text. This is why working on a computer for several hours might cause eye problems, while reading a book may not.

Several factors contribute to digital eye strain, such as:

  • Screen glare
  • Poor lighting
  • Poor posture while using the computer
  • Viewing the computer at the wrong distance and angle
  • Uncorrected vision problems
  • A combination of these factors

On average, people tend to blink less when using a computer than when reading a printed text. This can cause dry eye, which can also contribute to digital eye strain.

Who is at risk for getting digital eye strain?

You may be at greater risk for digital eye strain if you:

  • Spend several hours a day at the computer or on a digital device
  • View your computer or digital device too close to the screen
  • View your computer or digital device at the wrong angle
  • Have poor posture while using your computer or digital device
  • Have eye problems (even minor ones) not corrected with glasses or contact lenses
  • Have a pair of glasses that is not suitable for viewing the distance of your computer
  • Don’t take breaks while you are working

If you have an underlying problem with dry eye, this may make digital eye strain worse or more likely. Dry eye is more common in women than in men. It also becomes more common with age. Some medicines and health problems make dry eye more likely. For example, if you use antihistamines, you may be at greater risk of having dry eye. If you have thyroid disease or certain autoimmune diseases, you are also at greater risk of having dry eyes.

What are the symptoms of digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain can cause a number of symptoms, including:

  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Dry eye
  • Eye discomfort
  • Eye fatigue
  • Eye itching
  • Eye redness
  • Eye tearing
  • Headaches
  • Neck and shoulder pain

Most of these symptoms are temporary and decrease or go away when you stop using your computer or device. Sometimes, though, you may experience symptoms for an extended period afterwards.

The severity of symptoms may vary according to how long you have been using the computer or digital device, your underlying eye problems, and the other factors that cause computer vision syndrome. Symptoms may get worse if you do not resolve the problem.

Extended computer or digital device use can also lead to other symptoms like neck and shoulder pain. This is often due to poor alignment and posture during computer or digital device use. Some healthcare providers consider these symptoms part of digital eye strain as well.

How is digital eye strain diagnosed?

Your eye doctor will diagnose your condition with the help of a medical history and thorough eye exam. He or she will assess whether any health problems, medicines, or environmental factors might be adding to your symptoms.

Your eye doctor may test the sharpness of your vision and how well your eyes focus and work together. In some cases, your eye doctor may want to dilate your eyes. He or she may use a device called an ophthalmoscope to look at the back of your eye. In some cases, you may need to get follow-up blood tests for healthcare problems that might be contributing to your digital eye strain.

How is digital eye strain treated?

Treatment of digital eye strain involves creating a better work environment.

  • Rest your eyes at least 15 minutes after each 2 hours of computer or digital device use.
  • Every 20 minutes, look into the distance, away from the computer or digital device for at least 20 seconds.
  • Enlarge the text on your computer screen or digital device.
  • Minimize glare from the light sources in your environment.
  • Consider using a screen glare filter.
  • Position your screen so that the center of it is about 4 to 5 inches below eye level (about 15 to 20 degrees from the horizontal).
  • Position your screen about 20 to 28 inches from your eye.
  • Remember to blink frequently.
  • Fix your chair height so your feet can rest comfortably on the floor. Don’t slump over the computer screen.

Making these changes eliminates digital eye strain in many people.

Your eye doctor will also need to treat any underlying problems contributing to your digital eye strain. For example, you might need a new pair of glasses. If you have an underlying problem with dry eye, your eye doctor might recommend the following:

  • Using lubricating drops
  • Treating allergies, if present
  • Creating a more humid work environment
  • Staying hydrated
  • Taking a prescription medicine to increase tear production

What can I do to prevent digital eye strain?

Create a better work environment to help prevent digital eye strain. If you use glasses or corrective lenses, see your eye doctor once a year for a checkup. Also, see your healthcare provider regularly, to help prevent and treat healthcare problems that can contribute to digital eye strain.

Key points

Digital eye strain refers to a group of related eye and vision problems that result from extended computer use. It is very common.

  • Symptoms include eye discomfort and fatigue, dry eye, and headaches.
  • Uncorrected vision problems are a major cause of digital eye strain.
  • Sometimes, underlying medical problems contribute to digital eye strain.
  • Maintaining a better computer work environment can help eliminate most people’s symptoms.
  • Resting your eyes regularly is one of the best ways to prevent and treat digital eye strain.

Action alert

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your healthcare provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions.


March 22, 2017

Reviewed By:  

Haupert, Christopher L., MD,Walton-Ziegler, Olivia, MS, PA-C