The Signs of Digital Eye Strain and How to Combat Them

Dr. Hanish Patel

With the average American now spending over 11 hours a day using computers, tablets, cell phones and e-readers, there has been an exponential increase in symptoms of Digital Eye Strain (DES) or also known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). The symptoms can be separated into two distinct categories: external and internal.

1. External symptoms include:

  • Dry or burning eyes
  • Tired eyes
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • General ocular discomfort
  • Shoulder and neck pain

2. Internal symptoms (specifically accommodation and/or binocular vision stress) characterized by a multitude of symptoms including:

  • Eye strain or eye fatigue
  • Blurred vision at near or at distance after prolonged near work
  • Headaches or aches behind the eyes
  • Difficulty focusing from one distance to another

Symptoms of DES can be exacerbated by various conditions such as:

  • Glare from screens or external light sources
  • Poor lighting
  • Uncorrected vision
  • Prolonged near work

It is important to remember that DES can affect individuals of any age. Studies in Europe show that almost 70% of children who regularly use digital devices by age three are prone to DES.

DES is also more common in females which could be attributed to dry eye prevalence also being greater in women. Individuals with binocular vision dysfunction such as convergence insufficiency and decompensating heterophorias/vergence infacility report more symptoms the longer near work is performed. 

As we now know, exposure to blue light can be harmful to the retina, especially suprathreshold with peak light damage occurring at 440nm. Even though digital screens and current technology emit lower levels of blue light that are not considered biohazardous, there have been suggestions that cumulative exposure to blue light emitted from safe devices could occur over a patient’s lifetime due to the significant amount of time users spend viewing digital devices. While larger studies are required, some studies have suggested that blue light may play a role in DES.

Combatting Digital Eye Strain

There are several ways to help combat the symptoms of digital eye strain, and when used in combination, these strategies can be very effective in improving visual comfort.

Seek Professional Advice

The combination of factors and symptoms that affect an individual can be unique. Seeking advice from your optometrist will allow for optimizing visual and binocular function, in addition to the most effective recommendations for optical products. Glasses and contact lenses can be prescribed to help with prolonged near vision focusing on digital screens and eyeglass lens coatings or filters can reduce the amount of blue light entering the eye. Your eyecare professional can also treat external symptoms such as dry eye and ocular discomfort.

20-20-20 Rule

Taking frequent breaks and looking away from digital devices is one of the most effective ways of reducing DES. By following the 20-20-20 rule, the eyes are able to relax and focus on distance objects before returning to close work. 

Ambient Lighting

Controlling ambient light in the environment that the digital device is being used in can help to reduce the strain of viewing the images on the device. By working in a well-lit environment, the contrast change between the ambient light and screen are minimized, allowing the eyes to adjust more easily to the device.

Use Eye-care Technology

When choosing digital devices and screens, users can make a conscious choice to incorporate technology that can help minimize symptoms of DES. Companies like BenQ are innovating new technologies in their products to help alleviate the negative side effects associated with digital screens and monitors. With monitors that can reduce blue light, eliminate screen flicker and automatically adjust the on-screen brightness, the user can work for longer and let the technology work in their favor.

  1. Sheppard AL, Wolffsohn JS Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and amelioration BMJ Open Ophthalmology 2018;3:e000146
  2. Rosenfield M . Computer vision syndrome (A.K.A. digital eye strain). Optometry in Practice 2016;17:1–10
  3. American Optometric Association. Computer vision syndrome. 2017
  4. Tosini G , Ferguson I , Tsubota K . Effects of blue light on the circadian system and eye physiology. Mol Vis 2016;22:61
  5. The Vision Council. Eyes overexposed: The digital device dilemma: digital eye strain report. 2016. 
  6. BenQ eye care™ Technology


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