Eye strain and screen usage – what you need to know

With an increase in remote learning and working, the sales of blue light blocking glasses have skyrocketed and ads are filling our computers and social media feeds. But are they helping our eyes and helping to reduce eye strain? 

Some blue blocking glasses claim that blue light from computer screens can cause eye disease and glasses are needed to keep the eyes safe. However, before you order an expensive pair of eyewear, read on. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) states that blue light doesn’t cause eye disease or digital eye strain and that sleep issues can be managed without these expensive glasses. So how can we decrease our eye symptoms that can occur with increased screen usage without having to purchase yet another gadget? When should we be worried about eye strain and how can we manage it?

Sunshine, UV rays and blue light

According to the AAO, the small amounts of blue light coming from your computer screen won’t cause eye damage, and some blue light from the sun is actually healthy. However, UV rays from the sun can cause eye damage. Be sure to wear UV rated sunglasses to protect your eyes when you are out in the sun and wear a hat or sit under an umbrella to limit your exposure to those UV rays. 

What is digital eye strain and what causes it?

Your long days in front of the computer will cause eye strain. Although eye doctors state this won’t cause eye disease, it can certainly cause some temporary discomfort. 

The following symptoms of eye strain are called digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome (CVS): 

  • Watery eyes
  • Headaches
  • Blurry vision 
  • Dry eyes
  • Neck and shoulder pain

These symptoms occur while we stare at screens for long periods of time. Increased use of computer, e-reader, tablet and cell phone use cause these symptoms, which can worsen with longer use. 

The good news is that these symptoms can be reversed with a few simple changes! Of course, you want to be sure that there isn’t a more serious health problem that is causing any of these symptoms. Be sure to discuss these symptoms with your health care provider or ask a nurse first if you are looking for help deciding who can best address your symptoms. 

How can I alleviate my eye strain?

There are many things that you can do to minimize symptoms of eye strain. According to the AAO, taking frequent eye rests will help alleviate symptoms. Just 15 minutes of rest whenever you are on the computer for more than 2 hours can improve symptoms. You can also follow the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes look away from your screen and look at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This will give your eyes a needed break.

Blinking is another way to keep your eyes comfortable. Staring at your computer screen can cause dry eyes, and blinking more often will help lubricate your eyes. According to the AAO, we blink less when we stare at our screens and devices. Our normal blink rate is about 15 times per minute, which can be cut in half when staring at screens causing our eyes to dry out. You can use artificial tear eye drops to lubricate your eyes when they are feeling dry or simply blink more often. Try taking a blink count on your next Zoom meeting. See if you can up your blink game! Your eyes will thank you. 

Taking a look at your positioning can also help your symptoms: 

  1. Ideally, your computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level from the center of the screen and about 2 feet away from the eyes
  2. Positioning your screen so you are looking down slightly can also help  reduce light glare and symptomsPull down the shades or use a lower wattage bulb at your desk to help improve your glare
  3. Get comfy in your chair and make sure you are well supported. Plant those feet on the ground! Proper computer posture can help alleviate symptoms of eye strain, as well! 

How does blue light impact sleep?

Blue light is known to disrupt sleep when used before bedtime. A National Sleep Foundation Poll found that Nine of 10 Americans reported using a technological device in the hour before bed. AAO recommends avoiding blue light from screens 2-3 hours before bedtime in order to minimize sleep disruptions. During the day, the blue light keeps us stimulated and awake so open those window shades and get that computer work done. But research shows that blue light before bed can suppress melatonin, enhance alertness, and push your circadian rhythm sleep cycle out, making it harder to get a good night’s sleep. (Circadian rhythm is a 24 hour cycle in the body responsible for many functions, most commonly known for your natural internal sleep/wake process.)  

The National Sleep Foundation reports that more than 60% of Americans report various types of sleep problems each night. Make sure that your screen use isn’t the cause of your fatigue and any disruption to your sleep cycle. We need all the uninterrupted sleep we can get as good sleep helps to achieve optimal health. 

If you must use your phone or computer right before bed, darken the light on the screen or use a shield on your computer screen to help decrease sleep disrupting blue light exposure before bed.

Get your eyes checked

If you are in need of an updated prescription for eye glasses, your eye strain symptoms are likely to be worse, especially if you are spending hours on a computer screen or use screens daily. Getting a regular eye exam can help ensure that your eyes are healthy and that you have appropriate eyewear for prolonged computer use. 

According to American Optometric Association, in most cases the symptoms of CVS or Digital Eye Strain occur because the visual demands of a screen exceed the visual abilities of the individual to comfortably perform them, causing eye strain symptoms. Making sure you have the appropriate eyewear prescription will help to ensure that you aren’t demanding too much from those hard working eyes. 

Uncorrected vision and some people with different types of vision issues or focusing issues (farsightedness, astigmatism, presbyopia, problems with eye coordination etc.) may need more breaks than others, and in some cases, special glasses for computer screen use. The text on a screen is oftentimes different than that on paper. It is harder to see, as the screen isn’t as sharp and there may be glare.. A regular eye exam is very important to eye health and can make your screen use more tolerable with less symptoms of strain. 

Chat with a nurse first if you are having any symptoms and get checked out to be sure you don’t have anything more serious going on. We are always here to help!

The opinions expressed in Nurse-1-1 Health Center Blogs are solely opinions of the writer. Other than information received directly by you from your personal provider, the health center blog should not be considered medical advice. Read more.