Is all this online learning straining your eyes?

Updated: Feb 27

Dr Vanessa Thai shares some proactive measures to help avoid digital eye strain for you and your children.

I screen, you screen, we all screen… With this time away from school and virtual learning in full swing, parenting can be a stressful and difficult task at the moment, especially with additional screen time. Research shows that only two hours in front of digital screens is enough to cause eye strain[1], otherwise known as “Computer Vision Syndrome”[2].


What is Computer Vision Syndrome?

Computer Vision Syndrome is the name for a group of eye and vision symptoms that might be experienced as a result of prolonged viewing of computers, tablets, e-readers and smartphones. These symptoms include:

  • Eye strain

  • Tired and irritated eyes

  • Dry and red eyes

  • Blurred and double vision

  • Headaches

  • Neck and shoulder pain


What causes Computer Vision Syndrome

For most of us, our eyes naturally prefer to focus further than six meters away, so viewing a computer screen poses a visually demanding task, different from reading a printed page. Digitally presented information is often composed of smaller text, flickering print and pixelated images. The combination of all these unique characteristics and our eyes having to work harder can often lead to difficulty concentrating on the task at hand.

Digital eye strain symptoms may be caused by:

  • Poor lighting and glare on the screen

  • Improper viewing distances

  • Poor sitting posture

  • Uncorrected vision problems such as small levels of short or longsightedness or astigmatism

  • Undetected eye-coordination issues

Blue light is all around us. It is emitted by the sun, artificial light and digital screens. It may be beneficial to our eyes in moderation as it is necessary for regulation of the sleep/wake cycles, mood and cognitive performances. However, overexposure, especially from digital device emission, may cause premature eye ageing and visual strain[3].


Avoiding problems

Timely, March is “Save Your Vision” month and some proactive measures we can take to avoid digital eye strain include:


  • Posture - poor posture may actually be the primary cause of headache after prolonged computer use. Be aware of this, relax and breathe. Sit up straight.

  • Screen position - the centre of the computer screen should optimally be 10-12 cm below eye level. The screen distance should be:

  1. at arm’s length for desktop computers

  2. a little more than reading distance for laptops

  3. tablets should be at the same distance as our reading material, ideally the distance from our elbow to our nose

  • Rest - looking at a screen all day means our eyes are focusing at just one distance, equivalent to holding our arms horizontally without moving all day, an arduous task. Looking away from our screen into a distant target and getting up for a break every now and then will keep our eyes rested and allow them a chance to refocus - once every 20 minutes to keep the eye muscles moving.

  • Mix it up - alternating periods of screen viewing with periods reading and active play; and outdoor play or sport which requires distance vision

  • Lighting - ensure the overhead and surrounding light is similar to the screen brightness and position screens to avoid glare from windows

  • Blinking - to minimise chances of developing dry eye when using a computer, make an effort to blink frequently to keep the front surface of our eyes moist. Preservative-free lubricant eye drops can also help

  • Optical enhancement - consider digital screen protection lenses which are designed to help eye muscles relax, focus more easily, and provide blue-light protection while using screens


Vanessa Thai is a registered optometrist and is available through Southside Family Health Centre.


[1] Ang, C. et al. ‘Taking the strain’. Optician. 05/2017, vol. 253, no. 6600, p. 25-28 [2] Reddy SC et al. Computer Vision Syndrome: a study of knowledge and practices in university students. Nepal J Ophthalmol 2013;5(10):161-168. [3] https://www.vsp.com/eyewear-wellness/eye-health/blue-light-good-and-bad

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