5 signs of Computer Vision Syndrome 

person working on computer

If you work at a computer or spend long periods of time looking at screens, you may be susceptible to something called Computer Vision Syndrome. 

What is computer vision syndrome?

Computer vision syndrome is a common condition that can cause dry, strained, and tired eyes. It can also make it difficult for your eyes to focus normally. It happens when your eye muscles get tired from long periods of staring at a screen. This includes computers, e-readers and smart phones. 

Computer vision syndrome isn’t actually one specific problem, but rather a range of eye problems caused by screen use. 

How does it happen?

When you focus on a digital screen, your eyes work harder to be able to focus. This is because the words you read on a digital screen aren’t as sharp as those on a physical, printed page. Digital screens also very often have glare, which is just another challenge for your eyes as it makes it even more difficult for them to focus properly. There’s a big difference to your eyes in reading a book for two hours and reading off a screen for two hours. It may be the same amount of time and seem like the same amount of work, but that’s not the case for your eye muscles. 

If you work at a desk with a computer, you might often be looking down at papers or notes and then looking back up at your screen. When you work at a computer, your eyes are constantly refocusing to keep up with the fast-moving images. Add switching your gaze between papers and a screen to the mix, and your eyes are having to work double-time to react to the differences and readjust its focus. This is a lot of work for your eye muscles. 

When you work on a screen, you also blink less frequently which causes the eyes to dry out and contribute to computer vision syndrome symptoms.

If you’re not sure whether you’re experiencing or have experienced computer vision syndrome, here are 5 symptoms of computer vision syndrome to look out for.

What are the symptoms of computer vision syndrome?

Eye strain and eye fatigue 

If your eyes feel tired and are struggling to focus on things like they usually do, this may be a sign that you’re suffering from computer vision syndrome. 

Vision problems

Some of the most common computer vision syndrome symptoms are issues with vision, such as blurred vision or double vision. Blurred vision is when you cannot see things clearly and everything appears fuzzy or blurry. Double vision, also known as diplopia, is when you see two of the same image. This could be horizontal, vertical or diagonal.   

Headaches

Possibly one of the most obvious symptoms of computer vision, headaches are an indication that your eye muscles have been straining for too long as a result of prolonged screen use. 

Eye discomfort

Feelings of discomfort in and around your eyes can include eye redness, eye itching, and dry eyes. These sensations, especially combined with a headache, are a common symptom of computer vision syndrome. 

Neck and shoulder pain 

There are some symptoms of computer vision syndrome that don’t involve the eyes themselves. This comes from the posture we adopt when using a computer or smartphone for a long time. Poor alignment and posture can cause neck and shoulder pain. 

Many of these symptoms are short-term. They will often fade away once you stop using your device and step away from it. But how long you were using the screen and whether or not you already have underlying vision problems may determine the severity and duration of your symptoms. Your symptoms of computer vision syndrome might worsen if you don’t deal with them. 

How to treat computer vision syndrome

Adjust your computer

Make sure you’re sitting not too close to it, but not too far either. An optimum distance is 20 to 28 inches away from your eyes. Your screen should also sit slightly below eye level, aim for 4 to 5 inches below. 

Blink frequently

This one is especially important if you wear contact lenses. Blinking helps prevent your eyes from drying out which is common when using a screen. 

Reduce screen glare

Screen glare occurs when light is reflected off your screen, often from overhead lights or nearby windows. Consider closing blinds or curtains if you notice too much light coming in or add a screen glare filter to your computer screen. 

Take regular breaks

Continuous use of a digital screen is a major factor in computer vision syndrome, so taking breaks can help to prevent it. Take the 20-20-20 rule; look at something 20 feet away, for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes. It might be helpful to set a 20-minute timer on your phone if you aren’t used to taking breaks so frequently.

Consider glasses or contact lenses.

Persistent symptoms of computer vision syndrome may be an indication of an underlying eye condition that requires correcting. An optometrist can give you a 3D OCT eye exam to determine whether you require glasses that filter out glare, or if you need a special pair of prescription lenses. If you already wear glasses, ensure they fit you correctly. If your glasses don’t fit you properly, your focal line may not be directed through the centre of your lens, making it harder to focus correctly and causing more damage to your eyesight. 

If you’re experiencing any of the 5 symptoms listed during or after using a screen, you may have computer vision syndrome. Follow the steps we’ve outlined to alleviate the symptoms, and if they persist, visit your local independent opticians for advice. It may be that you have an eye condition that needs treating, or an existing prescription that needs updating. 

Alternatively, find out about some more common eye conditions – read our guide to colourblindness, find out more about the signs of diabetic retinopathy, or get clued up on the links between headaches and vision.

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