Digital eye strain - woman rubbing her eye and holding her head

Digital Eye Strain & Its Impacts

April 26, 2021

We’ve all experienced an increase in the amount of time we’re spending on digital devices. In fact, research conducted by the Alberta Association of Optometrists indicates adults in the province are spending an average of 10.5 hours a day on a digital device. That’s close to all of our waking hours!

We have many different options on how we connect – smart phones, tablets, desktops and laptops – which makes it easy to stay online long past when our eyes need a break and we experience digital eye strain. When you look at close-up objects such as screens for long periods, your eyes contract and converge and this causes the eye muscles to work harder resulting in strained and tired eyes. Add to this that when using multiple digital devices we experience varied fonts, print sizes, lighting levels, and often highly pixelated images that cause our eyes to have to strain to focus, and read or resolve the images.  We also blink less often which means there are fewer opportunities for your eyes to be coated with a protective lubricant that helps provide relief. Some of the symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye irritation
  • Double vision
  • Excessive tearing or dry eyes
  • Excessive blinking or squinting
  • Stinging or burning eyes

Pay attention to the symptoms and if you feel fatigued or notice eye irritation there are some simple steps to reducing the impact.


Screen Considerations:

  • Whenever possible use only one device at a time.
  • Position the screen of the device about 50-70 centimeters, or an arm’s length, away from your face.
  • Ensure the centre of the screen is slightly below eye level to improve posture and reduce physical discomfort and fatigue.
  • Regularly clean screens to keep them free of fingerprints and dust to reduce distortion and differential glare.
  • Increase text size and use consistent fonts when possible.
  • Position your screen away from glare sources such as windows and lights and adjust the brightness of your screen to match the level of ambient light around you.
  • If your work requires that you make regular reference to paper documents while working on a screen, use a document stand so that the paper document and the digital device is at the same working distance.


Personal Care:

  • Follow the 20:20:20 suggestion – every 20 minutes take a break from your device for 20-seconds by looking away from the screen and towards something about 20 feet away. Better yet, take some time and head outdoors if even for just a few minutes.
  • If it’s been a particularly high use week, take a half or full day break from screens.
  • Designate a “devices off” time each evening to be sure you get the 1 to 2 hour break you need before bed.
  • Don’t forget the basics – blink more often!


Looking to the future, it’s certain we will all continue to use devices as part of our daily life. It seems the list of additional jobs, tasks and applications on these digital devices continue to find their way into our lives.  With each new application, it’s important to be aware of how we can make changes to keep our eyes healthy and reduce the discomfort of digital eye strain.

Your optometrist can also make suggestions to help you manage digital eye strain. There are many options available from dry eye treatments to computer glasses. Be sure to book your annual eye exam to ensure your eyes are healthy and your vision is at peak performance.


Note: if you are interested in screen time guidelines for your family, you can learn more here.

 Glyn Jones is a consulting occupational health and safety professional with 35 years of experience. He is a regular safety conference speaker in Canada, and he provides program design and instructional support to the University of New Brunswick’s fully online OHS Certificate and Diploma programs.

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