Digital Eye Strain: All You need to know

In the modern information age, the widespread adoption of digital devices has revolutionized the way we work, communicate, and entertain ourselves. However, this technological advancement has given rise to a new ocular concern known as “digital eye strain.”

With digital screens pervading nearly every aspect of our lives, from computers and smartphones to tablets and e-readers, we find ourselves spending extensive periods engrossed in their luminous glow.

The continuous use of digital screens has introduced our eyes to unprecedented levels of visual stimuli and blue light exposure. As a consequence, many individuals experience a range of uncomfortable symptoms, which are collectively referred to as Digital Eye Strain. 

This growing phenomenon has spurred researchers and eye care professionals to delve into the neuroscience behind digital eye strain and develop strategies to mitigate its impact on visual health. In this page, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and preventive measures to help you navigate the digital realm with better ocular well-being.

A study published in an international peer-reviewed journal, Ophthalmology and Therapy, reviewed that during the Covid-19 lockdown prevalence of Digital Eye Strain in children alone rose to 60%. And, the symptoms included New-onset Myopia, Vergence abnormalities, and recent onset esotropia.

What is Digital Eye Strain (DES)?

Digital eye strain, or, DES, also often associated with computer vision syndrome, refers to a collection of symptoms, including eye discomfort, blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches, and neck strain, that occur when an individual spends extended periods of time looking at digital screens, such as computers, smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices. 

Prolonged use of digital screens requires the eyes to focus and refocus repeatedly. This continuous demand on the eye’s ciliary muscles can lead to visual fatigue and strain. The visual cortex, responsible for processing visual information, becomes overstimulated, contributing to the discomfort experienced during DES.

What is the difference between Digital Eye Strain and Computer Vision Syndrome?

Although both the terms CVS and DES are used interchangeably and in some cases both are even the same, there is a notable distinction. 

In terms of similarity, both Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eye Strain are linked with ocular discomfort from extensive usage of digital screens. And, naturally, both exhibit similar symptoms like eye fatigue, dry eyes, irritated eyes, red eyes, headaches, blurred vision, and focusing difficulties.

However, Computer Vision Syndrome is a much more chronic and serious condition as compared to DES. To the extent that CVS has been known to cause even temporary blindness! Since computer vision syndrome affects your ocular muscles and nerves more extensively, it may exhibit additional symptoms like high light sensitivity, nausea, intense headaches, and neck & shoulder pain.

A simple way to create a distinction between both terms is to put it this way—if an individual lets Digital Eye Strain go untreated, without making any lifestyle changes, then the condition could progress to Computer Vision Syndrome.

What are the common Digital Eye Strain Symptoms?

DES can manifest with a variety of symptoms due to prolonged use of digital screens. Being aware of these symptoms is crucial as it allows individuals to recognize the early signs and take preventive measures. Here are the common Digital Eye Strain symptoms, along with their real-life experiences and tips for being aware of them:

  • Eye Discomfort: Individuals may experience a range of sensations, including itching, burning, or a feeling of grittiness in the eyes. It can be similar to the sensation of having dry or tired eyes. Pay attention to how your eyes feel after prolonged screen use or during activities like reading from a digital device.
  • Blurred Vision: Blurred vision can make objects on the screen appear fuzzy or out of focus. It is similar to when you strain your eyes and find it challenging to see objects clearly. To be aware of this symptom, notice if the text or images on the screen become unclear after some time, especially if it improves after taking a break.
  • Dry Eyes: The eyes may feel dry, gritty, or sore, akin to having sand in your eyes. Notice if your eyes feel parched or uncomfortable after staring at a screen for an extended period.
  • Headaches: Digital Eye Strain can cause headaches, which may vary in intensity, from mild discomfort to throbbing pain around the temples or forehead. A headache associated with this disorder occurs primarily during or after screen use. When your headache is accompanied by other eye-related symptoms, it further indicates DES.
  • Neck and Shoulder Pain: Poor posture while using digital devices can lead to neck and shoulder strain. Pay close attention to if you feel any tension or discomfort in your neck and shoulder region while working on digital devices.
  • Double Vision or Diplopia: Individuals may perceive two images of a single object. To be aware of this symptom, look for instances where you see double or overlapping images on the screen.
  • Sensitivity to Light: Some people may become more sensitive to light, experiencing photophobia or discomfort in brightly lit environments. Notice if you squint or shield your eyes from light while using digital screens.

How to distinguish Digital Eye Strain Symptoms from other ocular, cervicocranial, or neurological problems with similar symptoms?

Distinguishing Digital Eye Strain symptoms from other ocular, cervicocranial, or neurological problems with similar symptoms can be challenging, as some conditions may overlap. However, understanding the specific characteristics of each condition can help in making a more accurate assessment. Here are some guidelines to differentiate DES from other potential causes:

  • Digital Eye Strain Vs. Ocular Conditions: Conditions like dry eye syndrome, conjunctivitis (pink eye), and refractive errors (e.g., nearsightedness or farsightedness) can share some symptoms with Digital Eye Strain. However, these conditions typically persist even after prolonged screen use and may cause additional symptoms like eye redness, excessive tearing, or very high sensitivity to light. 
  • Digital Eye Strain Vs. Cervicocranial Problems: Neck and shoulder pain are common symptoms of both DES and cervicocranial problems, such as cervical spondylosis or tension headaches. However, cervicocranial issues usually involve more persistent and localized pain in the neck and head, which may be worsened by certain neck movements. Additionally, these symptoms may not be relieved by taking breaks from screen use.
  • Digital Eye Strain Vs. Neurological Disorders: Some neurological conditions, such as migraines or cluster headaches, can present with symptoms similar to DES, including headaches and sensitivity to light. However, neurological disorders typically have distinct patterns and may be associated with other neurological symptoms like nausea, aura, altered consciousness, or changes in vision.

To differentiate Digital Eye Strain from other potential causes, consider the following steps:

  • Take regular breaks from screen use and notice if symptoms improve during those breaks.
  • Pay attention to specific triggers; for instance, migraines might be triggered by certain foods or stress, while Digital Eye Strain may worsen with prolonged screen use.
  • If the symptoms persist or worsen, keep track of their frequency, duration, and any additional symptoms and discuss them with an eye care professional or a healthcare provider.
  • In cases where symptoms are severe, affecting daily life, or causing significant distress, seeking professional medical evaluation is essential for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Digital Eye Strain Causes

 Digital eye strain and computer vision syndrome causes include various factors related to visual processing and eye movement, all of which have neuroscientific underpinnings. Here are the key neuroscience-related causes of DES:
  • Visual Fatigue: Prolonged screen time can cause visual fatigue as the neurons responsible for processing visual information become overworked. The constant focusing and refocusing of the eyes on digital screens lead to increased neuronal firing in the visual cortex, contributing to eye strain.
  • Blue Light Exposure: Blue light exposure is among the top computer vision syndrome causes. Digital screens emit blue light, which can penetrate deep into the eyes and reach the retina. Specialized photoreceptor cells called melanopsin-expressing retinal ganglion cells (mRGCs) are particularly sensitive to blue light. These cells transmit signals to the brain’s suprachiasmatic nucleus, affecting circadian rhythms, potentially leading to sleep disturbances and eye strain.
  • Reduced Blinking Rate: When using digital devices, people tend to blink less frequently. This results from the brain’s attentional focus on the screen content, leading to reduced activation of the neural circuits responsible for controlling blinking. Reduced blinking causes dry eyes and irritation, as tears that lubricate the eyes are not replenished as often.
  • Eye Movement: Frequent saccades (rapid eye movements to shift focus) and pursuits (smooth tracking movements) are common when reading or working on digital screens. The brain’s coordination of these eye movements involves various areas, including the frontal eye fields and the superior colliculus. Extended periods of these eye movements can cause eye strain and discomfort.
  • Neural Adaptation: The brain undergoes neural adaptation to the constant presence of digital screens. This adaptation can impact visual processing, leading to difficulties when transitioning between screen and non-screen environments.

The risks of leaving Digital Eye Strain untreated

Digital Eye Strain, if left unaddressed, can lead to several other eye problems and complications. Prolonged screen time and associated eye strain may worsen pre-existing conditions such as dry eye syndrome, causing chronic discomfort and potential damage to the cornea. 

Additionally, individuals who experience frequent headaches due to this condition may develop tension headaches or migraines, affecting their overall quality of life. The continued exposure to blue light from screens can also contribute to long-term retinal damage, increasing the risk of age-related macular degeneration. 

Moreover, the impact of DES on sleep patterns can lead to a myriad of health issues beyond eye-related problems. To safeguard eye health, it is crucial to be mindful of digital screen usage, take regular breaks, and prioritize overall well-being by seeking professional advice if symptoms persist.

How to get diagnosed for Digital Eye Strain

Diagnosing Digital Eye Strain involves a comprehensive evaluation by an eye care professional. The process typically begins with a detailed discussion of the individual’s symptoms, medical history, and screen usage habits. The eye care provider will conduct a thorough eye examination to check for any underlying ocular conditions that could contribute to the symptoms.

During the examination, the eye care professional will assess visual acuity, eye muscle coordination, and refractive errors. They may also evaluate the surface of the eyes for signs of dryness or irritation. Additionally, specialized tests might be performed to measure tear production and assess the health of the cornea and retina.

Since Digital Eye Strain shares symptoms with other eye conditions, the diagnosis involves ruling out other potential causes of discomfort, such as dry eye syndrome or refractive errors.

By gathering this comprehensive information, the eye care professional can accurately diagnose DES and recommend appropriate management strategies, including lifestyle adjustments, ergonomic modifications, and potential treatments for any underlying ocular issues.

Vision Therapy for Digital Eye Strain Treatment

Digital Eye Strain treatment with dichoptic theory-driven video-game-based vision therapies is an innovative approach that combines visual exercises with interactive gaming technology. The video games aim to rebalance the visual system by engaging both eyes simultaneously with different visual stimuli. This modern, technology-driven, approach to DES treatment has shown promising results in improving visual comfort and reducing associated symptoms.

Dichoptic therapy proves highly effective in Digital eye strain relief. Dichoptic therapy is specifically designed to enhance binocular vision, which refers to the coordinated teamwork of both eyes to create a single, seamless visual image. By engaging in dichoptic exercises, individuals can strengthen binocular vision, leading to improved depth perception and visual processing. This enhancement is crucial for effectively viewing digital screens and can significantly reduce eye strain associated with focusing on two-dimensional displays for extended periods. With improved binocular vision, individuals may experience greater comfort and efficiency in reading, working, and engaging with digital content, further promoting better eye health in the digital age.

  • Customized Treatment Plans: Eye care professionals can tailor dichoptic therapy programs based on an individual’s specific visual needs and symptoms. These personalized Digital eye strain treatment plans ensure targeted and effective interventions.
  • Interactive Vision Games: Dichoptic-therapy-based Digital eye strain remedies utilize video games that present different images to each eye through specialized goggles or filters. The brain is challenged to fuse these images, promoting better coordination between the eyes.
  • Strengthening Eye Muscles: The therapy for digital eye strain cure involves visual exercises that aim to strengthen eye muscles and improve their ability to work together, enhancing overall visual comfort during screen use.
  • Engaging and Fun: The video-game-based approach makes the digital eye strain treatment enjoyable and encourages individuals to adhere to the treatment plan consistently.
  • Neuroplasticity: Dichoptic therapy for digital eye strain cure leverages the brain’s neuroplasticity, allowing it to adapt and rewire neural pathways for improved visual function and reduced eye strain.
  • Progress Tracking: Regular assessments and progress tracking help monitor improvements over time and adjust the therapy as needed.

Digital Eye Strain Prevention and Management

The prevention options aim to promote better eye health in the digital age. Here are several strategies that individuals can adopt to manage and prevent DES, as well as, provide digital eye strain relief:

  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule: The 20-20-20 rule is among the most advised and adopted digital eye strain remedies. Take regular breaks every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This practice reduces the strain on the eyes and helps maintain eye moisture.
  • Adjust Screen Settings: Modify screen brightness, contrast, and font size to optimize visual comfort. Use the “Night Mode” or blue light filters on devices to reduce blue light exposure, especially during evening hours.
  • Proper Lighting: Ensure adequate lighting in the surrounding environment to minimize glare and reduce eye strain. Position screens to avoid reflections from windows or bright light sources.
  • Ergonomic Setup: Maintain an ergonomic workstation with the screen positioned at eye level and at an appropriate distance. This prevents unnecessary strain on the neck, shoulders, and eyes.
  • Blink Regularly: Be conscious of blinking and make an effort to blink regularly to keep the eyes moisturized and reduce dryness.
  • Eye Exercises: Practice simple eye exercises, like focusing on near and far objects or rolling the eyes in a circular motion, to relax the eye muscles.
  • Artificial Tears: For individuals with dry eyes, using preservative-free artificial tears can help lubricate the eyes and reduce discomfort.
  • Computer Glasses: Consider wearing computer glasses with anti-reflective coatings or blue light filters to reduce eye straining.
  • Limit Screen Time: Reduce unnecessary screen time and take regular breaks from digital devices to give the eyes adequate rest.
  • Routine Eye Exams: Regular comprehensive eye exams are essential to detect any underlying eye conditions and ensure optimal eye health.

FAQs on Digital Eye Strain

Answer: To relieve digital eye strain, take regular breaks, follow the 20-20-20 rule (every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds), adjust screen settings, and consider using blue light glasses.

Answer: Digital eye strain, or computer vision syndrome, is a condition caused by prolonged screen use, leading to symptoms like eye discomfort, blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches, and neck pain.

Answer: Digital Eye Strain Symptoms include eye discomfort, blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and sensitivity to light.

Answer: Yes, DES typically goes away with rest and proper eye care practices. Taking breaks from screens, using proper lighting, and practicing good ergonomics can help alleviate symptoms.

Answer: Three typical Digital Eye Strain symptoms are eye discomfort, blurred vision, and headaches, which may arise from prolonged screen use and reduced blinking.

Answer: Blue light glasses or computer glasses with anti-reflective coatings can help reduce digital eye strain symptoms by optimizing visual comfort during screen use.

Answer: Blue light glasses can be effective in reducing eye strain caused by digital screens by filtering out harmful blue light, but individual results may vary.

Answer: Mild cases of eye strain can be cured by adopting preventive measures and practicing good eye habits, such as taking breaks, blinking regularly, and adjusting screen settings.

Answer: The duration of eye strain varies depending on individual factors and the severity of the strain. Typically, it improves with rest and proper eye care practices.

Answer: DES may last for a few hours to several days, depending on how much time is spent on screens and the extent of eye strain.

Answer: While eye strain itself does not cause permanent damage, prolonged and untreated DES can exacerbate existing eye conditions and lead to discomfort and visual issues.

Answer: To cure eye strain from phone, adopt effective eye strain from phone treatments. Firstly, follow the 20-20-20 rule (look 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds), reduce screen brightness, and use blue light filters. Secondly, consider using eye drops for dryness relief. Proper treatment can alleviate eye strain from excessive phone use and promote eye comfort.