Computer vision syndrome
(also known as Digital Eye Strain)
The rise of Computer Vision Syndrome
We use digital devices now more than ever. When we aren’t glued to our screens at work or watching the latest Netflix hit late at night, we’re texting, researching, working, communicating, mindlessly scrolling, and browsing on our smartphones.
According to The Vision Council - an independent group of eye doctors comprised of optometrists and ophthalmologists - the average American now spends 7.5 hours in front of a screen or digital device every day. And around the world, the average person also spends upwards of 7 hours a day with their eyes glued to a screen. While much of this computer use happens at work, smart phones have only increased our connectivity and digital presence. In fact, the Vision Council also reports that nearly 50% of all Americans have jobs that prolonged computer use. Sound familiar?
This prolonged screen time and digital device exposure prompts uncomfortable consequences and side effects, though. The eye strain you feel as lunch wraps up isn't all (metaphorically) in your head, after all. The American Optometric Association estimates that 50-90% of computer users suffer symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome (also known as Digital Eye Strain) which, quite literally, feels like eye strain, eye discomfort, and eye fatigue. Likewise, the Vision Council reports over 200 million Americans report these symptoms after only two hours a day in front of a screen. That's more than 50% of the entire country! More jarringly is that this number has increased significantly per generation as screens become more integral to our everyday life and society. The Vision Council notes that 57% of Baby Boomers report symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eye Strain; that number jumps to 63% for Gen Y and, alarmingly, up to 70% for Millennials.
What are Computer Vision Syndrome symptoms?
In short, Computer Vision Syndrome (abbreviated to CVS, or DES for Digital Eye Strain) are symptoms caused by staring at digital devices for a prolonged period of time throughout the day. This screen overexposure could lead to short- and long-term vision problems and discomfort. Whether using a phone, tablet, laptop, or computer monitor, there is a range of symptoms that people experience. Most common symptoms include eye and vision problems, such as:
- Eye fatigue / eye exhaustion / tired eyes
- Eye strain
- Eye discomfort
- Eye ache
- Dry eyes / itchy eyes / irritated eyes
- Blurry vision / double vision
- Neck pain / shoulder pain / back pain
People may experience Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eye Strain symptoms differently - feeling every type of discomfort, or only one - and some are more prone to Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eye Strain than others. For instance, those who experience specific symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eye Strain may more acutely feel that their eyes are incredibly exhausted at the end of the day versus their eyes only bothering them slightly.
What causes Computer Vision Syndrome?
Our eye muscles never evolved to stare at screens or digital devices for long periods of time. Given that computers and LED screens are a relatively new invention, it would be lifetimes before our eyes develop to handle computer use without the stresses and strain we feel today.
Two of the main culprits behind Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eye Strain are blue light and glare. The uncomfortable effects of prolonged screen use contribute to many undesired symptoms including eye strain, eye fatigue, headaches, irritation eyes, and blurry vision.
Blue light is the high energy light that digital devices and LED lights emit. Blue light sits at the end of the visible light spectrum, right next to UV light. Its short wavelength, which is inversely correlated to energy level (meaning the shorter the wavelength and lower the frequency, the higher the energy), enables that high energy to stress the ciliary muscle in the eye. Blue light's nickname is HEV light (high-energy visible light) for a reason!
In addition, blue light's ability to penetrate our eyes suppresses our melatonin secretion. Melatonin is the neurotransmitter that helps regulate our sleep at night and wakefulness during the day. It also maintains our body's circadian rhythm (which is our internal, 24-hour clock). Because prolonged exposure to blue light (most relevantly, from the screens of our digital devices) suppresses this neurotransmitter, all of that nighttime phone-, laptop-, and TV-use tricks your mind into thinking it should still be alert and awake. This just makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. There are also current studies in animal and stem cell models that show a positive correlation between overexposure to blue light and retina damage; this appears similar to age-related macular degeneration. Think of how UV light - blue light's neighbor on the visible light spectrum - is known to damage our skin and cornea, which is why we wear sunblock and UV coated sunglasses to protect ourselves. With the negative effects of UV overexposure in mind, prolonged exposure to blue light and the potential negative effects that accompany it aren't entirely surprising, are they?
Glare, the second culprit of Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eye Strain, is unnecessary feedback that enters the eye. This, in turn, stresses the ciliary muscle in the eye and cause issues like dry, strained eyes and headaches. We don't just experience glare from our screens, though. Some people are particularly sensitive to glare from oncoming car lights while driving at night, for example. That's where our anti-glare (or anti-reflective, AR) coating comes into play. Regardless of the magnification you choose, all of our lenses come standard with our AR coating that eliminates 99% of glare from entering our eyes from both digital screens and the world around us.
There are other contributors to Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eye Strain, as well. A common issue is that our eyes were never meant to stare at objects up close - electronic device or otherwise - for prolonged amounts of time. In fact, our eyes are naturally at rest with a view distance of 20 feet away, so looking at something like a phone, tablet, or computer, which is generally 18-24 inches away from us, further stresses our eyes. Specifically, the ciliary muscle in our eye to spasms back and forth to adjust to this close proximity viewing. This blurs vision, causes headaches, and leads to eye fatigue and strain.
Beyond blue light, glare, and up-close viewing, there are a few other reasons why we experience Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eye Strain. Most commonly is a reduction in how often we blink when using our digital devices. The increased prevalence that our phones and computers have on our lives actually distracts us to the point where we forget to blink as much. The bright light from our screens - and air-conditioned or well-ventilated environments with constant flowing air - discourages blinking. Blinking prevents our eyes from drying out, so less blinking equates to more dry and itchy eyes. Another factor contributing to Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eye Strain is poor posture and positioning of devices. We often hunch over our digital devices or position them in awkward places, which can lead to neck, shoulder, and back pain.
Best Solutions to Cure / Prevent Computer Vision Syndrome
Computer Vision Syndrome and prolonged screen time can lead to unnecessarily uncomfortable - and therefore, less productive - days. Luckily, there are several long- and short-term solutions.
1. The 20-20-20 rule
This is the first defense for Computer Vision Syndrome/Digital Eye Strain and eye discomfort. It's a widely recommended practice by optometrists and ophthalmologists to decrease visual problems and blurred vision. It's pretty simple: every 20 minutes, look away from your digital screen and stare at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This reduces eye stress, strained eyes, eye discomfort, and can combat the negative effects of prolonged exposure from blue light.
2. Computer glasses
If the 20-20-20 rule is too easy to forget or is not doing enough to subside your Computer Vision and Digital Eye Strain symptoms (or if you are looking for increased protection!) then computer glasses are a positive step in a healthier direction for decreased eye discomfort, blurred vision, eye irritation, and increased visual ability.
At Felix Gray, we specially designed lenses to absorb blue light while remaining virtually clear and not affecting color perception or acuity. We achieve this by taking a naturally occurring blue light filtering ocular pigment and combining it with our lens material and whitening components. Through this proprietary method, we've created a lens that is the perfect balance between fashion and function. Only at this point do we apply a premium AR (anti-reflective, or anti-glare) coating on top, which eliminates glare without working against the blue light filter.
Traditionally, other lenses are tinted a dark yellow to filter blue light. This has two disadvantages. First, your color perception is completely distorted because everything appears more yellow. Second, many consider yellow lenses to be aesthetically unpleasing. Some companies opt-out of the yellow filter and coat their lenses, instead. These coats look clear until you are facing a screen, at which point they appear blue as the coating is deflecting the blue light. Unfortunately, coatings are also less effective because they generally don't target the highest energy wavelengths of blue light. They also can chip, which defeats the purpose of blue light filtering computer eyewear.
Our glasses are for people with 20/20 vision, need slight magnification (enter: our four readers offered in +1.0, +1.5, +2.0, and +2.5 magnification), and who wear contact lenses. Uncorrected vision or not, your eyes will not become dependent on the positive benefits of our lenses, and your Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eye Strain will decrease significantly.
3. Eye drops
Reduced blink rate dries out our eyes, which contributes to Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eye Strain. Using eye drops or artificial tears will keep your eyes moist and can help mitigate uncomfortable effects, including dry or itchy eyes.
4. Eye exam
Regular eye exams are also helpful as your eye doctor can recommend remedies, including a specific brand of eye drops.
5. The proper work station
It's important that your computer is set up at the proper work distance. You should be sitting in a good chair or using a standing desk. High-resolution monitors help us avoid squinting, as does proper lighting. Keep in mind that if everything else around in your environment is dark, then you'll only further strain your eyes!
6. Other Common Questions about Computer Vision Syndrome
1. Is Computer Vision Syndrome/Digital Eye Strain permanent?
Fortunately, Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eye Strain is not a permanent vision problem. By following some or all of the solutions above, you should decrease or completely curb your discomfort and increase your eye protection! Your eyes will also not become dependent on the positive benefits of our blue light filtering, glare-blocking lenses.
2. Why do they call it Computer Vision Syndrome?
Most credit The Vision Council, the aforementioned group of eye doctors, with coining the term. It's also referred to as Digital Eye Strain. Both terms are used interchangeably and optometrists and ophthalmologists are generally familiar with both.