These days, most people use a computer, smartphone or tablet on a regular basis. When you spend a long time doing anything that requires visual concentration such as driving, reading, or working on a computer, you may experience eye strain.

What is eye strain?

Eye strain is a symptom but not a disease. It can occur in children and adults and is usually from focusing on a visually intensive task for prolonged periods.

Individuals who stare at a screen may experience signs of digital eye strain, including:

  • fatigue
  • dry eyes
  • tearing or watery eyes
  • blurred vision
  • irritation
  • burning sensation
  • headaches  

When it comes to using our digital devices, many of us don’t have a choice. We need to use them for work - and for life.

Blue light and digital devices

The idea that the blue light emitted by digital devices is causing eye strain has led to an increase in popularity of blue light blocking glasses. It is true that overuse of digital devices may lead to eye strain. But according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, blue light from digital devices does not cause eye strain and does not lead to eye disease.

The fact is that eye strain symptoms are caused by how we use our digital devices, not the blue light coming out of them. While there is no harm in using blue light blocking glasses, there is no evidence that using them offers any protection or reduces eye strain symptoms.

Tips to reduce digital eye strain

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to relieve eye strain.  

  • The 20-20-20 rule. The best way to protect your eyes against eye strain from digital devices is to take regular breaks using the "20-20-20" rule: Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.  In the middle of a busy work day or when you’re on a deadline, taking a break may be easier said than done. But even closing your eyes for a few seconds can help re-moisten your eyes and help relieve some eye strain.  
  • Artificial tears. You can also use artificial tears to refresh your eyes when they feel dry. They are available over the counter.
  • Move your computer monitor. Blinking is the natural way our eyes are moistened. When we use computers or digital devices, we stare and don’t blink as much as we normally do. By moving the computer to just below eye level, we tend to blink more and stare a little less.  
  • Avoid air conditioning or heat units. Working right next to a fan, air conditioner or heating unit can evaporate the tear film that covers your eyes. If you’re chilly or hot and do need the heater or AC, try to place your desk away from these units.
  • Reduce glare.  Glare from surrounding lighting can strain your eyes. Try minimizing the glare from blinds or from fluorescent bulbs. Some people find using an anti-reflective, anti-glare film over their phone, tablet, or computer monitor can help.
  • Adjust your screen’s lighting settings.  Consider changing your screen’s brightness settings to a level that is more comfortable for you.  

If you continue to experience eye irritation or if you have other symptoms, don’t assume you just have digital eye strain. Visit your eye doctor. Your eye doctor will examine your eyes and tell you if it is eye strain, or if something else is wrong and how to treat it.  

For more information about our ophthalmology services, visit our Lifespan Ophthalmology Services page.

Michael E. Migliori, MD, FACS

Dr. Michael E. Migliori is a board-certified surgeon with Lifespan Ophthalmology Services who specializes in oculoplastic, reconstructive and cosmetic laser surgery. Oculoplastic surgery encompasses a wide variety of procedures that deal with the orbit (eye socket), eyelids, tear ducts, and face.