Digital Eye Strain: Is Online Learning Straining Your Eyes?

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How can you avoid digital eye strain for you and your children? Dr Vanessa Thai shares some proactive measures

digital eye strain
Take frequent breaks from your screen to rest your eyes. Image from Shutterstock.

With virtual learning in full swing – again – parenting can be a stressful and difficult task at the moment, especially with additional screen time. Is it taking a toll on your eyes? Digital eye strain can be a problem for all of us.

Research shows that only two hours in front of screens is enough to cause digital eye strain, also known as “Computer Vision Syndrome”. Concerns have also been raised about the rise in childhood shortsightedness (or myopia) during the pandemic due to decreased outdoor time and increased screen time. 

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 digital devices. 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

Our eyes naturally prefer to focus further than six metres away, so viewing a computer screen poses a visually demanding task. Additionally, compared to print, digital information often has smaller text, flickering print and pixelated images that can lead to Computer Vision Syndrome.

Computer Vision Syndrome may also 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

Blue light is all around us. It is emitted by the sun, some artificial light and all 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 devices, may cause premature eye ageing and visual strain.

Read more: What is Vision Therapy and is it Suitable for your Child?

How to avoid digital eyestrain

Some proactive measures we can take to avoid computer vision syndrome 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. Ideally, the screen size should not be too small, and the 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, at least 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. Getting up and away from the screen 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. Encourage kids to look out the window – find a distant target like the trees, the mountains, the sea, or watch the birds in the sky
  • Mix it up – alternating periods of screen viewing with some outdoor activity which requires distance vision. Go for a hike, spend an afternoon at the beach or go scooting. Balance screen time with green (outdoor) time and aim for at least 90 minutes of outdoor time daily which has been shown to be protective against shortsightedness
  • 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. A healthy diet with plenty of fish (omega 3), preservative-free lubricant eye drops and a desk humidifier can also help

Professional Help

What else can you? Try optical enhancement – ask your registered optometrist about digital screen prescription lenses that help eye muscles relax, focus more easily, as well as provide blue-light protection while using screens

Vanessa Thai is a registered optometrist and is available through Central Health – Southside. Please visit for more eyecare tips.

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