As technology is a major part of everyday life and many of us spend extended time in front of a screen it’s hardly surprising that computer-related health problems are on the rise.
Computer Vision Syndrome – also known as Digital Eye Strain – is one such health issue, and a common problem associated with over-exposure to digital screens. CVS is an umbrella term for a group of different eye-related problems that are directly caused by the prolonged use of computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Computer Vision Syndrome has been recognised as a medical condition for more than 20 years, and studies suggest that 50-90% of computer users are affected.
So, how can you tell if your screen use is damaging your eyes and what can you do to protect your vision?
Computer Vision Syndrome is a type of eye strain caused by looking at a computer, or other digital screen, for lengthy periods of time.
Reading text on a screen is very different from reading text on a page; the letters on a digital screen are not as well defined, particularly if the screen display has a low resolution. Plus, your eyes often need to cope with a glare from the screen. And old-fashioned CRT computer monitors are far worse for the eyes than modern LED screens, due to their noticeable flickering.
On top of this, several other factors have been linked to increased risk of developing Digital Eye Strain, including:
If you spend extended periods of time in front of a screen, it’s a good idea to be aware of the symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome. Then, you can act early if you start experiencing them. The most common symptoms you should be aware of are:
Computer Vision Syndrome can present differently for different people, and not everyone will experience all symptoms. Signs of screen-related eye strain are normally more severe the more extensive the screen use, especially if there are other aggravating factors such as poor lighting or pre-existing eye conditions.
You should be aware that it’s not yet known whether these symptoms have a permanent effect on the eyes, or whether they can be reversed through good eyecare and changes in screen use.
To achieve the greatest long-term results for Digital Eye Strain, it’s best to approach treatment from several angles:
One of the first things to do is to make an appointment with your optometrist . They will be able to diagnose and treat any pre-existing conditions that could be exacerbating your eye strain, such as far-sightedness, astigmatism or eye complications related to ageing.
They may also prescribe you glasses for computer use, even if you don’t need them at other times.
Sometimes vision therapy can help with Digital Eye Strain, particularly if there are underlying issues with eye focusing and coordination. Vision therapy is a little like physiotherapy for the eyes; it offers a series of structured activities designed to help the brain and eyes work more effectively together.
It is also important to look at your work-station, and make modifications where necessary. Switching to LED monitors and improving the level of light in the room, for example, can make a big difference.
You can ease some of the burden on your eyes by changing your own work patterns. For one: take regular breaks from looking at the screen. Even without moving from your desk, you can spend a few minutes every half hour doing non-screen-related tasks.
It can also be helpful to give your eyes a rest from contact lenses, if you wear them, and swap them for glasses a few days per week.
If the nature of your work requires daily use of a computer, there are some practical steps you can take to reduce the chances of Computer Vision Syndrome and keep your eyes in optimal health.
Trying to read in dim lighting puts an extra pressure on the eyes. You should make sure your screen is never brighter than the room around it. If the overhead lighting is insufficient, position a lamp by the workstation to help reduce eye strain.
Screen glare can be caused by light reflected from overhead lighting or a nearby window. Try to position your computer to avoid unnecessary glare and use blinds on the windows. You can also buy anti-glare screen protectors.
Computer Vision Syndrome can be exacerbated by straining to look at the screen from the wrong distance or at the wrong angle. You should ideally sit with your eyes 50 to 70cm away from the centre of the screen. Try to position your screen in such a way that you are looking down at it (the screen should be about 12cm below eye level).
It’s also important to make sure you maintain a healthy sitting position, with feet flat on the ground and your torso in an upright posture.
We cannot stress this enough: taking regular breaks from the computer is very important. In fact, it’s arguably the most important thing you can do. Make sure you find time to look away from the screen for a few minutes at regular intervals.
Even better, follow the 20-20-20 rule: take a 20 second break, every 20 minutes, to look at something 20 feet away. This gives your eyes a chance to rest and recover.
When we hear about Computer Vision Syndrome, it’s easy to label it as just a work-related issue.
While this may have been true 10 or 20 years ago – when we had the greatest exposure to screens during working hours – it’s not the case today. Now with tablets and smartphones, we are just as likely to be staring at screens outside the workplace as in.
So, it’s necessary to consider how we can change our lifestyles and home environments to reduce the chance of harming our eyes. Here are a few suggestions:
Lighting is just as important when you’re looking at your tablet or smartphone as when you’re using a computer. To ease the burden on your eyes, you should avoid using any screen in a poorly lit place. This includes reading on your phone at night with the light off.
One of the symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome is dry eyes. Some people find it helps to use a dehumidifier in the room where they spend most time in front of a screen.
This point bears repeating: keeping a healthy balance between screen and non-screen activities is critical for eye health. It can be helpful to consciously set aside times during the day where you don’t look at a screen – be that your smartphone, computer, tablet, or television.
So, what provisions does the law make to protect against Digital Eye Strain at work?
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations came into effect in the UK in 1992 (and were amended in 2002 to account for modern working life). They aim to protect employees from the potentially damaging effects of digital screens.
The law outlines four main requirements of employers:
These regulations apply to all workers who use digital screens for at least one hour per day. So if you feel that this applies to you (and especially if you have any symptoms of eye strain), be sure to speak with your employer – these are your legal rights.
If you’re concerned you may be suffering from Computer Vision Syndrome, it’s important to take it seriously – it’s unlikely your discomfort will go away by itself.
But, with just a few minor changes to your screen use routines, and some modifications to your workspace, you can feel confident you are doing what you can to minimise the risk of Digital Eye Strain in the long term.