Computer Vision Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, & Recommendations

​​In today’s digital age, we tend to spend hours glued to our computers, smartphones, and tablets, and our eyes endure considerable strain, leading to a range of uncomfortable symptoms. This has given rise to a prevalent condition called computer vision syndrome (CVS), or commonly known as digital eyestrain. 

This comprehensive article delves into the causes and symptoms of computer vision syndrome, shedding light on the underlying factors contributing to this modern affliction. Moreover, it offers valuable recommendations and practical tips to alleviate the discomfort, providing essential insights for anyone seeking relief from the digital strain on their eyes.

What Is Computer Vision Syndrome?

As its name suggests, computer vision syndrome (CVS) is defined as an eyestrain associated with extended computer use. The American Optometric Association (AOA) expands on this definition, describing CVS as “a group of eye- and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader, and cellphone use.”

Although eye health experts have yet to identify computer vision syndrome as a potential cause of permanent eye damage, the pain and discomfort it brings can significantly impact work productivity and the enjoyment of leisure activities at home. 

Symptoms of CVS fall into three categories: vision problems, eye problems, and general discomfort:

  • Vision problems

Vision problems can include blurred vision (both near and far), difficulty changing focus, diplopia or double vision, glare, flickering sensations, and temporary changes in color perception.

  • Eye problems

Eye problems can include redness, burning sensation, soreness, stinging, itchiness, dryness, excessive tearing, eye fatigue, eyestrain, light sensitivity, and contact lens discomfort.

  • General discomfort

General discomfort symptoms can include headaches, neck tension or pain, shoulder tension or pain, back pain, pain in arms or wrists, excessive fatigue, irritability, and drowsiness.

Fortunately, by implementing a few preventive measures, the symptoms associated with CVS can be effectively alleviated.

How Common Is Computer Vision Syndrome?

Computer vision syndrome is a common issue, impacting a substantial number of individuals globally. An NCBI research shows that approximately 60 million people worldwide suffer from this condition, with an occurrence ranging from 64% to 90% among computer users.

Though CVS is quite common, this is still something people should be wary of, and not take lightly. 

What Causes Computer Vision Syndrome?

Spending two or more consecutive hours daily looking at screens increases the risk of developing digital eyestrain. CVS from computer use is exacerbated because people tend to blink less frequently, which is vital for keeping the eyes moist.

Apart from staring at digital screens for longer periods, here are other contributing factors to developing CVS:

  • Continuous reading without breaks
  • Engaging in prolonged activities requiring focused vision (such as driving)
  • Exposure to bright light or glare
  • Forcing to see or read in low light
  • Underlying eye issues like dry eyes or uncorrected vision (known as refractive error)
  • Stress and fatigue 
  • Exposure to dry moving air from fans, heating, or air-conditioning systems
A woman with computer eye syndrome using prescriptive eyeglasses while reading.

How Do You Exercise Computer Vision Syndrome?

There are certain exercises you can perform to prevent and manage computer vision syndrome. They are as follows: 

  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule. 

The American Optometric Association recommends taking regular breaks from screens.

This translates to focusing on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes to reduce eye strain. Learn more about this rule for effective prevention and management of computer eye strain.

  • Practice eye focus exercises. 

Spend a few minutes daily on exercises to improve eye focus. You can do this by alternating between focusing on distant and nearby objects slowly to relax eye muscles. In addition, engage in the figure eight exercise: focus on a spot 8 feet away and move your eyes in a figure-eight shape for 30 seconds in each direction.

  • Consider blinking exercises. 

The typical blink rate for humans is around 20 times per minute, but it significantly decreases to 7 times per minute when using a computer or watching television. Blinking plays a crucial role in keeping the eyes moist and preventing dryness and irritation, especially during computer use. 

To prevent eye strain and other related issues, it is essential to practice blinking exercises every 4-5 seconds. Purposeful blinking helps lubricate the eyes and keeps eye stress at bay, serving as a simple yet effective way to maintain eye health.

How Do You Treat Computer Vision Syndrome?

Regular eye exams, along with a few simple adjustments to your workspace, can alleviate the symptoms of computer vision syndrome and prevent potential issues. Here are the detailed steps you can take to achieve such:

  • Schedule regular eye exams. 

Schedule regular eye check-ups with your optometrist to keep your prescriptions up to date. Inform them about any issues you experience. Depending on your needs, they might recommend glasses, contact lenses, or specialized eyewear for computer use, such as single or bifocal lenses, or tinted lenses that enhance contrast and reduce glare.

  • Reduce glare.

Modify the lighting in your surroundings to minimize glare on your computer screen. If natural light from a window causes glare, reposition your monitor and use window shades. Consider installing a dimmer switch for overhead lights or use a desk lamp with an adjustable shade for even illumination. Additionally, you can attach a glare filter to your monitor for further reduction.

  • Optimize desk layout. 

Position your monitor slightly below eye level, about 20 to 28 inches away from your face. Avoid straining your neck or eyes; use a stand for printed materials, ensuring you don’t need to constantly shift your gaze between the screen and the desk while typing.

  • Take regular breaks. 

Follow the 20-20-20 rule – every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus on something around 20 feet away. Blink frequently to keep your eyes moist. If your eyes feel dry, consider using eye drops.

  • Adjust settings. 

Customize your computer settings to enhance comfort. Modify brightness, contrast, and font size until you find settings that suit you best, instead of sticking to the default presets.

Does Computer Vision Syndrome Go Away on Its Own?

Yes. Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is typically temporary and often resolves on its own. By adopting healthy eye practices and following your eye physician’s advice and prescription, the discomfort associated with it can be alleviated. 

How Long Does Computer Eye Syndrome Last?

The majority of symptoms related to CVS or digital eyestrain tend to subside a few hours after discontinuing digital screen use. However, if underlying issues causing this condition are left unresolved, recurring exposure to these problems can result in decreased visual acuity even after ceasing screen work, and CVS may worsen over time. It is always best to consult your eye care specialist should symptoms persist. 

Key Takeaway

As our reliance on digital devices continues to grow, it’s vital to prioritize eye health and proactively address the challenges posed by prolonged screen time. By adopting proper ergonomic practices and ensuring regular eye check-ups, individuals can significantly reduce the impact of CVS on their daily lives. Embracing these strategies not only reduces discomfort but also fosters a healthier and more sustainable relationship with technology, allowing us to navigate the digital world with greater ease and well-being.