Why digital eye strain is causing you pain – and how to reduce it

The health risks of too much screen time

Also called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), digital eye strain is an increasingly common problem with Australians of all ages. I’m seeing many clients come to my Optometry practice with headaches and blurred vision due to CVS.

It’s caused by prolonged use of digital devices and screens. And by prolonged use, I mean anything over two hours at a time.

Why digital devices causes eye health problems

While previously we might use a computer at work and then put it away at home (perhaps watching a little TV), now we live our lives attached to small screens.

Prolonged screen usage causes three core problems that lead to eye strain: fixed focus, reduced blinking and blue light.

Fixed focus: Our eyes simply didn’t evolve to focus on a fixed distance for long periods of time. For hundreds of thousands of years, our eyes learned to change focus regularly, as we gazed all around at long, middle and near distances.

Only relatively recently have we forced our eyes to focus on middle-near distances quite so much. Our eyes are yet to adapt to this, and it strains the muscles.

Blinking: Constant focus reduces our blink rate. This means our eyes are replenished less often, causing our eyes even more stress and strain.

Blue light: Digital devices emit a certain kind of blue light, also called high-energy visible (HEV) light. It has a shorter wavelength than other colours, and increases eye strain. It also plays havoc with our internal circadian rhythms, disrupting our sleep. (Find out how sleep issues affect your eye health in this blog).

Common symptoms of digital eye strain

As a result, up to 90% of us suffer from digital eye strain. More than just an annoyance, this causes us to suffer symptoms such as:

  • headaches
  • dry, scratchy and irritated eyes
  • blurred vision
  • tiredness
  • pain in our shoulders, neck and back

It impacts our overall wellbeing, and causes a safety risk.

Why the problem is getting worse

The average Australian adult now spends six hours a day staring at a screen. That doesn’t include other eye focus activities such as reading print or driving. Yet eye strain can occur after just two hours of screen use.

And it’s not just computers that cause digital eye strain – any kind of screen can cause problems. This includes your phone, your tablet, the TV, video games, even e-readers such as Kindles or Kobos.

How to reduce the effects of digital eye strain

Screens are here to stay and we can’t totally avoid them, but there are actions we can take to reduce eye strain:

Take a 20:20:20 break: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away (about six metres). Set a timer on your computer or device to remind you (there are numerous apps which can do this for you.)

Blink: Remember to make yourself blink when looking at screens, as your eyes will naturally blink less. This keeps your eyes moist.

Reduce glare: Wherever possible, position your screen so there’s less glare and reflection from lights. This reduces the strain on your eyes.

Prescription: Make sure you have the right prescription. Your vision can change over time, so get regular eye checks (every two years if under 65 and every year if you’re over 65).

Limit exposure: Limit your usage of screens in your leisure time. If you don’t need it, don’t use it.


Digital eye strain, or computer vision syndrome, causes headaches, blurred vision and sore eyes. You can limit the effects of your digital usage, by managing your screen time.

If you are worried about your vision, or are experiencing new symptoms such as headaches, come into our optometry practice in Rose Bay for an eye test. You can book online here.

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