Digital Eye Strain

Even though your eyes contain the strongest muscles in your body, your eyes can get tired due to their nearly full-time job. Today, more people are suffering from digital eye strain (sometimes called digital fatigue) without knowing the cause of their symptoms.

What is the Impact of Digital Eye Strain on Adults?

Modern work and lifestyle changes have forced us to spend extended hours in close-range activities, such as viewing smart phones, computer work, e-books, and hand-held gaming. The increased demands of these activities on your eyes can leave you with uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptoms. For some people, eye strain can also lead to reduction in productivity and ability to concentrate—and may even negatively impact your vision health.

About 84% of American adults report using digital devices for more than two hours per day with nearly 68% using two or more devices simultaneously, and 65% report experiencing symptoms of digital eye strain. Americans report experiencing the following symptoms of digital eye strain:

  • 33.9% report experiencing eye strain
  • 29.0% report experiencing dry eyes
  • 29.9% report experiencing headaches
  • 29.5% report experiencing blurred vision
  • 36.3% report experiencing neck and shoulder pain

Additionally, close to 80% report using digital devices, including TV, in the hour before going to sleep, with almost 54% in the first hour they are awake.

Common symptoms of visual fatigue are headaches, tired eyes, neck or back pain, burning or stinging eyes, and difficulty focusing for extended periods of time. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, your eye doctor can show you how to reduce eye strain and fatigue through advancements in technology.

*Based on data from VisionWatch, July 2019

What is Digital Eye Strain in Kids?

Besides playing outside, parents indicate their children’s favorite activities are playing on a digital device (24.0 percent) and watching TV (17.9 percent). While more than 72 percent of American adults say their children are exposed to two or more hours of screen time per day, 21.8 percent of parents are “not concerned” about the impact of digital devices on their children’s developing eyes.

Those parents reporting symptoms related to digital eye strain say their children experience the following after two or more hours of screen time:

  • Reduced attention span (16.9 percent)
  • Irritability (17.0 percent)
  • Poor behavior (17.5 percent)
  • Eye strain, dry or irritated eyes (9.6 percent)
  • Headaches (9.2 percent)
  • Neck/shoulder pain (5.9 percent)

*Based on data from VisionWatch, July 2019

What is the Impact of Computer Use on Kids’ Eyes?

Sitting for hours in front of a computer screen stresses a child’s eyes because the computer forces the child’s vision system to focus and strain a lot more than during any other task. Computer use stresses the eyes more than reading a book or magazine because it is harder to maintain focus on computer-generated images than on printed images. This is especially true for young children, whose visual systems are not fully developed. According to the American Optometric Association, children may be especially vulnerable to computer-related vision problems because:

  • Children have a limited degree of self-awareness. They may perform a task on the computer for hours with few breaks. This prolonged activity can cause focusing and eyestrain problems.
  • Children assume that what they see and how they see is normal. Often children cannot articulate or describe their symptoms, even if their vision is impaired or slowly deteriorating.
  • Children are smaller than adults. Because computer workstations are often arranged for adult use, this can increase the risk of children sitting too near the screen or adopting unusual postures that can lead to eyestrain and neck, shoulder and back pain.

How Can You Help Protect Your Child’s Eyes?

To prevent your child from developing digital eye strain and other related symptoms (including increasing myopia), follow these tips:

  1. Schedule a Comprehensive Eye Exam – Before they start school and every year after, make sure your kids have a comprehensive eye exam – including an assessment of their near-point (computer and reading) vision skills.
  2. Ergonomically Design Your Child’s Workspace. Make sure your child’s computer workstation is arranged to suit body size. Also, the screen should be a few inches below the child’s eyes. The chair should be adjusted so your child’s arms are parallel with the desk surface and his feet rest comfortably on the floor. These adjustments help avoid posture problems and strained muscles.
  3. Pay Attention to your Child’s Eyes. Be aware of the signs and symptoms of vision problems, such as eye redness, frequent rubbing of the eyes, head turns, and other unusual postures or complaints of blurriness or eye fatigue. Avoidance of the computer or school work may also indicate a vision problem.
  4. Take a 20-20-20 Break. Eye doctors recommend the 20-20-20 rule. Take a break once every 20 minutes and focus on something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This can alleviate eyestrain and work the eye muscles that are not being used while watching a digital screen.
  5. Alternate Focusing on Close and Distance. It is equally important to make sure the eye gets time to relax on focusing on something up close for 3 hours should be followed by 3 hours of looking at something at a distance. For example, spending time outdoors in natural light relaxes the eyes and relieves visual fatigue as well.

If you suspect your child may be developing a vision problem related to computer use, be sure to mention this when you make an appointment for an eye exam.