Staring at your computer, tablet, or smartphone for hours on end has become part of everyday life. Inevitably, all of that staring can put a real strain on your eyes. The name for eye problems caused by computer use is Computer Vision Symdrome (CVS). CVS is not one single eye problem, instead the term encompasses a range of eye strain and pain experienced by computer users.
Research shows that computer eye problems are common. Somewhere between 50% and 90% of people who work at a computer screen have at least some symptoms of eye trouble. Kids who stare at video games, tablets or computers throughout the day at school also can experience eye problems related to computer use, especially if the lighting and computer position are less than ideal. Computer vision syndrome is similar to carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries at work. It occurs when you're carrying out the same motion over and over again. Just like those other repetitive stress injuries, computer vision syndrome can get worse the longer you continue the activity.
Working at a computer requires that the eyes continuously focus, move back and forth, and align with what you are seeing. You may have to look down at papers and then back up to type, and the eyes have to accommodate to changing images on the screen in order to create a clear picture for your brain to interpret. All of these functions require a lot of effort from eye muscles. Working on a computer is more challenging to your eyes than reading a book or piece of paper, because a computer screen also adds the elements of screen contrast, flicker, and glare.
Computer eye problems are more likely to occur if you already have an eye problem -- such as nearsightedness or astigmatism -- or if you need glasses but don't wear them or wear the wrong prescription for computer use. Working at a computer gets even more difficult as you get older. That's because the lens of your eye becomes less flexible. The ability to focus on near and far objects starts to diminish after about age 40 -- a condition called presbyopia. If you have CVS, you may experience some or even all of these symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- Double vision
- Dry, red eyes
- Eye irritation
- Neck or back pain
If these symptoms are not treated, they can have a real effect on your work performance. Making a few simple changes in your environment can help prevent and improve CVS symptoms:
- Cut the glare. Change the lighting around you to reduce glare on the screen.
- Rearrange your desk. Researchers have found that the optimal position for your computer monitor is slightly below eye level, about 20 to 28 inches away from your face.
- Give your eyes a break. Look away from the screen every 20 minutes or so and either gaze out the window or scan the room for about 20 seconds to rest your eyes. Blink often to keep your eyes moist. If your eyes are getting overly dry, try using lubricating eye drops.
- Tweak your computer settings. Adjust the brightness, contrast and font size until you find the best settings for your vision.
Vision your eye doctor regularly and let them know about any eye strain or other problems you are experiencing. The eye doctor will help determine whether you can just wear your regular glasses or if you need special computer glasses. These may contain a single or bifocal lens, or tinted lens material, which may help increase contrast perception and filter out glare and reflective light to reduce symptoms of eye strain. Also have children's eyes checked often. Make sure any computers they use are set up at the right height and with optimal lighting to minimize glare.