Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is the term for a group of eye and vision-related problems that develop following the prolonged use of devices with digital screens.
Devices such as computers, tablets, and smartphones put increased demands on a person’s visual system. Using these devices for extended periods without breaks can cause CVS symptoms, including eye strain and headaches.
In this article, we explain what CVS is and outline its causes and symptoms. We also provide tips on how to avoid CVS and when to see an optometrist.
What is it?
The extended use of devices with screens may lead to eye strain and headaches.
CVS describes a group of symptoms that occur following the prolonged use of devices with digital screens. Such devices include:
- personal computers
Common symptoms of CVS include eye strain and headaches. A person may also experience neck and shoulder pain as a result of sitting for long periods.
It is not clear how much time a person needs to spend looking at a digital screen to develop CVS. However, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA), longer periods of screen use seem to correlate with higher levels of discomfort.
Computer vision syndrome occurs as a result of prolonged digital screen use.
Digital screens cause a person’s eyes to work harder than normal. Several factors are responsible for this, including:
- the screen content being less sharp or focused
- poor contrast of the screen’s content against its background
- reflections or glare bouncing off the screen
The following factors may also contribute to CVS:
- viewing the screen in low light conditions
- being too close to or too far from the screen
- positioning the screen at an angle that causes eye strain
- taking insufficient screen breaks
Together, these factors put greater demands on the eyes’ ability to track and focus. These demands are even higher for people who have minor uncorrected vision problems.
If the additional demands on the visual system occur over extended periods, a person may experience symptoms of CVS.
The symptoms of CVS may differ from one person to another. Some common symptoms include:
- eye strain
- dry and itchy eyes
- blurry vision
- double vision
- difficulty focusing
- nearsightedness, also called myopia
- neck or shoulder pain and stiffness
The symptoms of CVS will usually go away after a sufficient break from screen use.
However, people who have underlying eye or vision problems will need to treat these problems to prevent future episodes of CVS. Some potential treatment options include those below.
Regular eye examinations
People who do not visit their optician regularly may have undiagnosed vision problems that worsen as a result of prolonged screen use. Others may be using outdated prescription glasses or lenses that are no longer effective in correcting their vision problems.
Regular visits to an optician can reduce the risk of CVS and other vision problems.
Vision therapy is a form of therapy that aims to develop or improve a person’s vision. It involves the use of eye exercises to improve eye movement and focusing.
Vision therapy may be an option for people who continue to experience CVS and other vision problems despite wearing corrective glasses or contact lenses.
Laser eye surgery
Some people with underlying vision problems may be good candidates for laser eye surgery. This procedure uses lasers to reshape the surface of the eye so that it can focus more effectively.
The best way to prevent CVS is to avoid long and uninterrupted periods of digital screen use. However, this is not an option for many people who work at a computer.
The AOA recommend following the 20-20-20 rule when working at a computer. Doing this involves taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes to view something that is 20 feet away. Following the 20-20-20 rule can reduce eye strain from digital screen use.
Other tips for preventing the symptoms of CVS include:
- positioning the screen at the optimal distance, which will be about 20–28 inches from the eyes
- positioning the screen at a comfortable angle, with the center of the screen 15–20 degrees below eye level
- ensuring that there is adequate lighting
- using an antiglare screen or changing the angle of the screen to avoid glare from lighting
- remembering to blink regularly enough to avoid eye dryness
- wearing glasses or lenses to correct any underlying vision problems, where necessary
- sitting comfortably with both feet flat on the floor and support in place for the arms while typing
- taking regular rest breaks
When to see an optometrist
In many cases, the symptoms of CVS will go away once a person has spent sufficient time away from digital screens.
To prevent future episodes of CVS, a person should take steps to improve their work environment and adopt healthful screen-management habits.
A person should visit their optician if they continue to experience CVS symptoms despite making the necessary changes to their screen use. Persistent symptoms can sometimes be a sign of an underlying eye condition that requires appropriate treatment.
Computer vision syndrome describes a group of symptoms that can arise as a result of prolonged screen use. Common symptoms of CVS include eye strain and headaches.
CVS can affect anyone who looks at a computer, tablet, or smartphone screen for long periods without breaks. However, it is particularly prevalent among people who have underlying vision problems.
The symptoms of CVS tend to subside once a person has taken a sufficient break from viewing digital screens. People can prevent future episodes by creating a comfortable work environment and adopting habits to maintain good eye health. Following the 20-20-20 rule is an effective way to reduce the risk of eye strain.
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Loh, K. Y., & Redd, S. C. (2008). Understanding and preventing computer vision syndrome.
Tran, K., & Ryce, A. (2018). Laser refractive surgery for vision correction: A review of clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness.
Vision therapy. (2016).