A man with glasses in his hands wipes his eyes

Digital eye strain: Are our screens messing up our eyes?

If we were all addicted to screens before the pandemic, we’ve certainly upped the hours we put in since it began. We spend all day interacting with our digital devices while stuck inside for both work and play. Add in all the virtual meetings and other virtual gatherings that have become part of our new norm, and that can put a real strain on our eyes.

What is digital eye strain

Digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome, as this very modern condition is known, is incredibly common and eye strain symptoms include:

  • Dry, burning or itchy eyes
  • Tired eyes and difficulty focusing
  • Headaches
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • The good news is that the effects of digital eye strain — as annoying as they may be — are not permanent and can mostly be mitigated by adapting our habits and environment.

How to combat digital eye strain

The simplest solution to combating digital eye strain is ridiculously obvious: You need to look away from the screen! The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends following the 20-20-20 rule, which consists of stepping away from the screen every 20 minutes  and taking a 20-second break, focusing on something at least 20 feet away.

Taking a moment to go get a glass of water or walk around for a few minutes while taking a few deep breaths will help your body feel better in general.

Creating a better work environment to protect your eyes

Another suggestion on how to protect eyes from screen fatigue is to adjust the environment where are viewing screens.

  • Your computer monitor  should be an arm’s length away from your eyes and  the top of the screen should be at eye level. Laptop users should consider a separate keyboard, mouse, and screen riser (or you can also put the laptop on a few books).
  • Minimize screen glare by pulling blinds/closing curtains and tilting/positioning the screen away from light sources.
  • Buy an anti-glare filter for your screen.
  • If you’re a contact lens wearer, switch to glasses when you’ll be spending a lot of time staring at the screen as contacts tend to make your eyes drier.
  • Use artificial tear eye drops to help relieve dry eyes. You can also try reminding yourself to blink more often as we tend to forget to do this when wrapped up in screen time!

Other factors for digital eye strain

Many of us log off from our work computer or laptop and then switch from a big screen to a smaller one designed to be held close to our face. This is not great for our eyes either! Here’s how to lessen the effects of that:

  • Turn down the brightness on your device. The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends matching screen brightness to that of the light that is in the area you are in.
  • Avoid watching content on your phone if it can be easily cast onto your TV or a laptop that can be placed in a more optimal viewing position.
  • Stop scrolling and take a break every so often (the 20-20-20 rule is useful here too).
  • If using an e-reader, set the text size a little bigger so that you don’t strain your eyes.

Do blue lenses work?

Blue light blocking lenses — sometimes sold as “computer glasses” - are marketed as a solution to fight digital eye strain and conserve macula health. Over the past year more companies have sprung up selling these lenses, and they’ve become something of a trend. Unfortunately, they probably don’t help and are dismissed by many eye health experts and professional bodies.

According to the College of Optometrists in England, there is no scientific evidence that supports the use of blue light protection glasses to  “improve visual performance, alleviate the symptoms of eye fatigue or visual discomfort, improve sleep quality or conserve macula health.” The American Academy of Ophthalmology goes a step further and says that there is no scientific evidence that supports the use of specific eyewear for computer use. 

So, although some people swear by blue lenses, you’re likely  better off following the advice of resting your eyes regularly and setting up a better screen-viewing environment.

Are your eyes still feeling strained?

If, once you’ve learned how to avoid digital eye strain, your eyes are still irritated or tired, get yourself to an eye doctor for a check-up to make sure that nothing more serious is at play. You may be having issues because you need glasses or a change in your prescription, or because there’s some other condition affecting your vision.

Getting our eyes checked out every few years is a good idea anyway, especially once we get past 40 as that’s when vision starts to decline for most people. Just because you never needed glasses before doesn’t mean that you won’t in the future.

Québec Blue Cross® health insurance can help cover costs associated with eye health that are not covered by the RAMQ or group benefits. Learn more about our solutions.