What is Digital Eye Strain?
Digital eye strain, sometimes also referred to as computer vision syndrome, describes headaches, dry eyes, and eye strain due to usage of computers, tablets, and smartphones (anything with a screen).
As more employees work from home, digital eye strain will become more of a problem since the degree of eye strain is directly correlated with amount of time looking at screens. Working from home increases screen time by moving in-person meetings to video calls and in-person communication to messaging platforms.
Humans Weren’t Designed for This
Evolutionarily, humans are not designed to spend the majority of their time indoors or looking at screens. There is a growing body of evidence for the light–dopamine hypothesis (read more here) which posits that a large environmental cause of Myopia (near-sightedness) is due to time spent indoors and lack of sunlight.
The hypothesis states that the neurotransmitter dopamine prevents elongation of the eye during development and its release is triggered in the retina by sunlight. Studies have corroborated this hypothesis by finding that experimental programs outside for school-aged children mitigate Myopia even when correcting for things like physical exercise.
The kinds of screens that most computers and smartphones use emit blue light. Blue light has a stimulatory effect on humans and affects circadian rhythms by suppressing melatonin production. This means that blue light can be disruptive to sleep patterns. Some studies have even shown associations between night time exposure to blue light and some types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity (read more here).
There is a simple way to mitigate blue light and that is by turning on night mode on your smartphone and computer. Many people do this 3 hours before bed but anecdotally having night mode on during the day also reduces eye strain for some people.
Here is a guide to enabling night mode on some popular devices.
The 20-20-20 Rule
Another popular way to prevent eye strain is 20-20-20 rule. The 20-20-20 rule says take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes. The 20-20-20 rule originated in an article on the California Optometric Association’s website written in 2001 by the Optometrist Jeffrey Anshel after treating many of the early cases of digital eye strain through his agency Corporate Vision Consulting in the early 1990s.
When humans stare at screens they tend to reduce the frequency of their blinking. Blinking keeps the front surface of your eye moistened so reduced frequency of blinking will lead to increased incidence of dry eye. To prevent this, you can implement blinking breaks into your 20-20-20 breaks from looking at a screen.
Screen positioning. The American Optometric Association recommends that your computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level (about 4 or 5 inches) as measured from the center of the screen and 20 to 28 inches from the eyes.
Correcting for Other Vision Problems
Digital eye strain can be worsened by co-occurrence of farsightedness, astigmatism, inadequate eye focusing or eye coordination abilities, and presbyopia (age-related changes in the eyes). Correcting for these problems can help mitigate digital eye strain.
Screen Contrast, Glare, and Reflections
Other factors thought to influence digital eye strain are screen contrast, glare, and reflections. Reduced contrast and presence of glare and reflections on screens seem to worsen digital eye strain. Common strategies to reduce glare is using blinds and drapes on the windows and low wattage light bulbs. Using screen glare filters on your screen are also an option.