Recognizing and Treating Computer Vision Syndrome Symptoms

Medically Reviewed By Katherine E. Duncan, MD
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Computer vision syndrome refers to pain and discomfort following extended periods of looking at a phone or computer screen. It causes headaches, blurry vision, and neck pain. The condition is also known as digital eyestrain. Anybody who spends long periods of time doing computer work or looking at a phone screen can develop computer vision syndrome. Most often, it will lead to symptoms such as headaches, eyestrain, dry eyes, discomfort in your shoulders and neck, and blurry vision.

In most cases, the condition is temporary, and treatment is straightforward. However, without treatment, symptoms can worsen over time. Around 49% of people in the United States do not know what digital eyestrain is, though 6 out of 10 U.S. individuals experience related symptoms.

Read on to learn how to recognize and relieve symptoms of computer vision syndrome, as well as what to expect if you visit an eye doctor for digital eyestrain. 

Symptoms of computer vision syndrome

A woman is looking at her laptop
Irina Efremova/Stocksy United

Signs and symptoms of computer vision syndrome typically affect the eyes. However, you may also experience pain elsewhere.

Symptoms of computer vision syndrome include:

  • dry eyes
  • eyestrain or tired eyes
  • blurry vision
  • headaches
  • shoulder and neck pain

Contact your doctor any time you experience new cases of blurry vision and headaches. The combination could be a result of a condition other than digital eyestrain.

What causes computer vision syndrome?

Computer vision syndrome can result from a few different factors, and it is often due to a combination of many of them.

Causes of computer vision syndrome include:

  • glare on a computer or phone screen
  • poor lighting
  • poor posture
  • sitting too close to the screen

The more time you spend looking at screens, the more likely you are to develop computer vision syndrome. Around 80% of people in the U.S. spend more than 2 hours per day looking at a screen. This increases the risk of developing symptoms associated with digital eyestrain.

You are also more likely to experience digital eyestrain if you have uncorrected vision problems, such as farsightedness or nearsightedness.

Treatment options for computer vision syndrome

In most cases, computer vision syndrome is temporary. There are a few different ways to treat it. These include both at-home treatments and prescriptions following eye examinations.

At-home treatments 

One of the best ways to treat computer vision syndrome is to give your eyes a break from screens as much as possible.

Other practical at-home treatments for reducing the symptoms of computer vision syndrome include:

  • Reducing glare: Make sure the room is evenly lit and the screen is not in front of a window.
  • Positioning the monitor: The center of the screen should be around 5–9 inches (12–23 centimeters) below your eye line and around 20–28 inches (50–71 centimeters) away from your face.
  • Adjusting the screen brightness: Set the screen brightness to match the brightness of your surroundings as closely as possible.
  • Resting your eyes: Follow the 20-20-20 rule by taking a break every 20 minutes to look at an object 20 feet away from you for at least 20 seconds.
  • Remembering to blink: It is common to blink less when doing computer work, and this can lead to dry eyes. Blinking more frequently can help reduce this.
  • Taking more breaks: It is better to take short frequent breaks than long infrequent breaks. Also, standing up and moving around during breaks can help reduce muscle fatigue.

Glasses

If you experience symptoms of computer vision syndrome, your eye doctor may prescribe you glasses specifically for use with computers and during other screen time. You may not need to wear glasses at any other time.

Additionally, if you already wear glasses, you may need a different prescription for extended periods of computer work.

If you think you might benefit from a prescription, or if you think your current prescription might not help with digital screen work, contact your eye doctor to arrange an eye test.

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Who is at risk of computer vision syndrome?

Anyone who spends long periods of time looking at screens is at risk of computer vision syndrome. This includes:

  • anybody who routinely spends 2 or more hours looking at a screen per day
  • individuals who use computers for work
  • children who use screens for school and learning
  • people who frequently spend leisure time on a phone or tablet

Additionally, anyone who has an underlying vision problem — such as nearsightedness or farsightedness, particularly when not treated correctly — has a higher risk of eyestrain when looking at a digital screen. 

Children and computer vision syndrome

Over 70% of U.S. adults say that their children get more than 2 hours of screen time per day. This includes watching TV and playing on digital devices.

Children who experience computer vision syndrome may appear irritable, with poor behavior or a reduced attention span. Spending more time on activities that do not strain the eyes, such as playing outdoors, may help reduce these symptoms.

Contact the child’s eye doctor if they exhibit symptoms of computer vision syndrome or complain of eye pain.

When should I contact my eye doctor?

As soon as you experience any symptoms of computer vision syndrome, contact your eye doctor to arrange an eye exam. This will help rule out any other eye condition that may be causing the symptoms, and your eye doctor may also recommend a prescription.

It is recommended that eye tests take place every 2 years. However, even if you are not due an eye exam, it is important to contact your eye doctor to discuss any symptoms of computer vision syndrome that you may be experiencing.

Summary

In most cases, computer vision syndrome is a temporary condition from looking at a screen for too long. When you use screens regularly for work, school, or entertainment, it can strain the eyes, and this can lead to symptoms such as dry eyes, blurry vision, and headaches. 

Giving your eyes a break from screens and adopting healthier habits during screen time can help reduce the symptoms of digital eyestrain. In some cases, a glasses prescription may be required to help reduce any pain and discomfort you feel when spending extended periods of time using a screen.

If you have symptoms of computer vision syndrome, contact your eye doctor to arrange an eye exam to test for any underlying conditions. Your doctor will also determine whether or not you might benefit from a glasses prescription.

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Medical Reviewer: Katherine E. Duncan, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Feb 25
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