Is Screen Time Making Your Eyes Dry?

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Woman using computer

Americans spend nearly half their day looking at a screen of some kind. This includes phones, tablets, desktop computers and TVs. So it’s probably not a big surprise that too much screen time can impact your vision and the health of your eyes. Dry eyes and eye strain have become so prevalent that researchers have created a name for this common condition—Computer Vision Syndrome. It affects millions of people across the globe and there’s a good chance you have it.

Dry Eye: A Look at Lifestyle Changes

Computer Vision Syndrome

Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is what happens when you stare at a computer screen too long and too often. It’s characterized by dry eyes and eye strain and it occurs for roughly 90 percent of people who use computer devices daily. Studies suggests that nearly 5 million men and women over age 50 in the United States experience chronic dry eye and it’s now beginning to affect children who spend time on smartphones. Dr. Matthew Gardiner, an ophthalmologist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary says, "It's most prevalent with computers, and typically occurs when looking at a screen at arm's length or closer."

The symptoms of CVS include common dry eye symptoms such as:

  • Burning or stinging

  • Decreased or blurred vision

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Red, watery eyes

  • The feeling of having something in your eyes

  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses and driving at night

Dry eyes from computer use are often caused by a lack of blinking. Dr. Gardiner explains that "When you look at a screen, you're so involved that you forget to blink. The blink rate goes from 15 times a minute to five or seven times per minute." Blinking is important for good eye health because it re-establishes the tear film on your eyes that protects them from damage.

Staring at a screen too long can also lead to eye strain. This can be caused by the brightness or glare that reflects from our screens. You may also experience eye strain from focusing too closely on a screen. In this case, you could need reading glasses to help reduce the strain.

6 Tips to Prevent Chronic Dry Eye

The good news is that CVS and chronic dry eye are easy to correct with a few simple changes in how you spend your screen time and care for your eyes.

1. Use artificial tears to keep your eyes lubricated. Do this several times during the day—at lunch, midday and before bed. Many eye drops look similar on the shelf, so be sure to buy an eye lubricant instead of drops for redness or allergies.

2. Blink often and take breaks. Follow the 20-20-20 rule to keep from staring too long at your screen. Take a 20-second break from your computer or device every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away.

3. Make sure your eyeglass prescription is current. If you get headaches and are straining to see the screen, reading glasses may help. If you already wear glasses or contacts, your prescription may need to be adjusted to make screen viewing easier.

4. Use a humidifier. This will add moisture to the air, so your eyes don’t dry out as quickly.

5. Adjust your angle. Make sure the center of the screen is 4 to 8 inches lower than eye level and 20 to 28 inches from your eyes.

6. Reduce glare. Glare reflecting off your screen requires your eyes to work harder to read it. Position your screen so you don’t get glare from room lighting or windows. You can also add a glare filter to your screen.

The bottom line? Take regular breaks from your screen time. If you need to, set an alarm to force you to break your stare every 15 to 30 minutes. This will give your eyes a rest and you’ll get a chance to move your body, so your overall health will benefit.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Jun 8
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