Does Staring at Screens Hurt Your Eyes? A Look at Expert Opinion

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EyeQue Team

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July 25, 2020

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Does Staring at a Screen Damage Eyesight?

Perhaps when you were growing up, your parents limited the amount of television you watched because they thought it would hurt your eyes. It’s only natural then that you warned your own children to not stare for hours on end at their computer monitors, tablets, and smartphones. So does staring at screens really harm one’s eyes or is this an age-old myth? According to experts, staring at computers, tablets, and smartphone screens will not permanently damage your eyesight. However, doing so can cause some bothersome side effects, most notably computer vision syndrome (also called digital eye strain).

What is Computer Vision Syndrome?

Man staring at computer screen

About 83% of American adults use digital devices more than two hours a day, and 53.1% say they use two digital devices at the same time. Of course, digital technology exposure isn’t limited to adults. Children use computers and other digital devices for playing the latest games, watching videos, learning at school, or doing homework. In fact, 72% of Americans say their children look at computer or tablet screens more than two hours a day.
Many adults and children experience eye discomfort and vision problems from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader, and cellphone use. The American Optometric Association says vision-related issues are the most prevalent type of health complaint among computer workers. Studies indicate 50-90% of computer users experience symptoms indicative of computer vision syndrome. Moreover, the level of discomfort appears to get worse the longer one stares at a screen.

Side Effects of Staring at a Computer Screen for Too Long

The most common signs of Computer Vision Syndrome include:

  • Eyestrain
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry eyes
  • Neck and shoulder pain

In children, additional symptoms include reduced attention span, poor behavior, and irritability, all of which are counterproductive to learning.

How to Stop Eye Strain

Often, the problem is not the screen itself but the immediate environment in which one works.

1. Set up computer screens so they are in the correct position in relation to your eyes. The top of the screen should be in line with eye level and placed about 18-30 inches from where you’re sitting.

2. Tilt the screen back slightly – about 10 to 15 degrees depending on individual preference. Maintaining this downward angle reduces the stress on eye muscles and also helps prevent glares from ceiling lights.

3. Balance the brightness of the computer screen to that of the room. Adjust desk lamps and window blinds so light does not shine directly on the screen. Glare screens can also eliminate this problem.

4. Clean your computer screen regularly to avoid static and dust buildup. This can obscure screen clarity and cause eye irritation.

5. To help prevent or alleviate existing dry eye, use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Try lubricating eye drops before using the computer and throughout the day. Your eye doctor can recommend appropriate eye drops and may give you samples.

6. Take the time to blink when you are looking at the screen. Doing so cleanses the eyes with naturally therapeutic fluids. In addition, follow the 20-20-20 rule by taking a 20-second break to view objects 20 feet away every 20 minutes.

Test Your Eyes Regularly

Woman testing vision GIFUncorrected vision problems (e.g. farsightedness, presbyopia, and astigmatism) can contribute to vision problems related to computers or digital device screens. If you have followed all of the above preventive tips and you or your children are still experiencing symptoms, an undetected eye problem may be partially to blame.

Proper vision correction is crucial on the job, in particular for complex and/or repetitive computer tasks such as data entry. A study showed small uncorrected refractive errors hindered productivity by 20%, even when the computer user didn’t notice symptoms. And if a child cannot see a screen properly, this can impede learning and lead to behavioral and developmental issues.

The EyeQue VisionCheck enables you to take a series of pixel-powered tests to determine your refraction error. It is a safe, affordable, and fun way to test your eyes any time anywhere, as long as you have a smartphone and are connected to the Internet. While the VisionCheck is not for children, the EyeQue Insight is an at-home 20/20 vision screener for all ages. The Insight will provide instant results for single and dual eye performance and lets you know right when you or your children are not seeing clearly as they should. Use these handy devices to help determine if prolonged screen time is causing your discomfort or an undetected or under-corrected refractive error is playing a role.

Save Time, Save Money, See Better

The EyeQue Vision Monitoring Kit combines two at-home vision test solutions. Test your refractive error with VisionCheck, and screen for distance, color, and contrast vision with the Insight. A pupillary distance tool, Bluetooth remote, and a soft-shell protective case are included.

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