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Computer Eye Strain Guide

Digital Eye Strain Guide – Content by Dr. Jason Morris

When we use a computer, tablet or smart phone for an extended period, many of us experience digital eye strain.  There are several reasons why this occurs including: current glasses’ lens design, posture & ergonomics, long periods of sustained focus, back-lit screens, improper prescription glasses or contact lenses, eye muscle / alignment issues.  The fact that we blink significantly less when our attention is focused on a screen also significantly contributes to eye irritation, blurry vision and fatigue.

Explore reasons for digital eye strain in the following table:

Sustained Focus:


Our eyes work like cameras.  Before autofocus cameras we manually focused a camera by moving lenses closer and further apart by twisting the camera’s lens system.  Moving the lenses would change the focal length and create clarity.


Our eyes work very much the same way with a flexible lens in the eye changing shape to create clarity.   Our eyes are not designed to hold static close focus.  They are designed to focus dynamically and continually move.  Keeping the same high point of focus (e.g. smart phone) fatigues the system and it becomes sore.


If you do not wear glasses at all there are options to relax your eyes.  Essilor EyeZen, Zeiss Digital and Nikon Relaxsee are examples of antifatigue lenses.  These lenses help reduce eye strain by assisting your eye’s focusing system. 


Current Glasses Lens Design:  

This is the domain of an Optometrist.  Please speak your Optometrist for all your options however…


If you do not wear multifocal (bifocal or progressive) lenses there are options to relax your eyes.  The lenses mentioned above come in prescription versions (Essilor EyeZen, Zeiss Digital and Nikon Relaxsee are examples of antifatigue lenses.  These lenses help reduce eye strain by assisting your eye’s focusing system.)


If you wear reading glasses only, these may not work well at a desktop screen because traditional readers only provide a narrow depth of focus.  There are products that extend this range (e.g. Essilor Digitime or Zeiss Officelens) and are very helpful to reduce strain and address multiple working distance issues.


If you wear multifocal lenses, a lined bifocal may work for a tablet, laptop or phone but may not work well for a desktop screen.  Conversely, a no-line bifocal (progressive lens) may help for a desktop and not be great for details.   It is a matter of finding the right combination for your visual demands.    


Backlit Screens:


Hippus is the normal involuntary small rhythmic pulses (dilation/constriction) of the pupil.  The frequency and size of hippus movements are influenced by light.   There is a school of thought that backlit screens cause more fatigue and strain because they induce more intense hippus movements.  This would be why many people enjoy reading more on paper or e-readers vs. tablets/laptops/phones.   There is not much research on this topic to make recommendations.


Posture and Ergonomics:

Extended smart phone use creates problems because working distances are so close.  Sustained focus (see above) and extended convergence (in-turning of eyes) cause fatigue and strain.  Proper eye wear and taking breaks are the best solutions.


Progressive lens users also have postural issues.  At a desk, the ideal spot to view a desktop screen is partway down the lens… this causes users to lift their chin for extended periods resulting in aches and pains.  There are products that allow for more comfortable postures (e.g. Essilor Digitime or Zeiss Officelens).  These lanes very helpful to reduce strain and address multiple working distance issues.  If a separate set of glasses is not practical, setting the computer monitor as low as possible is important (i.e. with straight ahead gaze, the top of your computer screen should be at eye level)


Improper Prescription
(Glasses or contact  lenses)


Having an outdated, inaccurate prescription seems like a logical thing to correct when having digital eye strain issues but you would be surprised how many folks do not consider this factor when experiencing eye ache and strain symptoms.  Step #1 - See your Optometrist!


Contact lens wearers with low amounts of astigmatism are susceptible to strain because low astigmatism is not generally corrected in soft contact lenses.  If this sounds familiar, the solution may be to have glasses for extended screen use times.   Or even antifatigue glasses (see above) for over your contacts!


Ocular alignment/ Eye Muscle Imbalance


Having your eyes work well together is critical for reading and screen comfort.  There are six muscles behind each eye that must work in concert for comfort.  Your Optometrist can assess your eye muscle coordination and make recommendations.  Vision Therapy is like physiotherapy for the eye muscles and can help strengthen and align misalignments (not all Optometrists offer Vision Therapy).  Alternatively, a lens with “prism” can sometimes be used to relax misalignments and help eyestrain.


A very basic test for alignment issues…  stare at the asterisk below and alternate covering one eye and then the other.   If the asterisk shifts at all up/down or significantly right/left you should see your optometrist.


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Dryness and Ocular Surface Issues

One of the most impactful things that you can do to stabilize vision and reduce digital eye dryness issues is use a non-preserved rewetting eye drop (such as Thealoz®) at least twice a day.


This is especially true for contact lens wearers as the ocular surface dries more quickly! 


Warm compresses, prescription medications and Omega 3 supplements are also used to combat dryness – digital or not!  See more information here.



Digital Device Dilemma

Except from "Eyes Over Exposed: The Digital Device Dilemma" (The Vision Council 2016)

We awake to the glow of a phone acting as an alarm clock. We work for hours on our computer screens, perhaps stopping to look at something on another screen—a television, a tablet, a smartphone. The pattern is repeated again and again as our days are filled with electronic images of news reports, online shopping, video games, movies, emails and texts….

This constant exposure to technology is a shock to our eyes. For centuries, we have evolved our sight by viewing a wide variety of objects outside from varying distances. A combination of factors including the proximity at which we view digital screens, the frequency and length of time of this use, physical responses to screen habits, and exposure to high-energy visible (HEV) or blue light, have conspired to cause visual discomfort in 65 percent of Americans. 1 This stress and strain, combined with other physical discomforts, is called digital eye strain.    READ MORE