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Computers and the Eyes: Seeing Past Eye Strain and Discomfort

In Brief

  • When we stare at the computer or do other visually intense activities for a long period of time, our blink reflex slows down.
  • Some symptoms that can occur when you have used a computer for too long include: dry, burning, irritated eyes; blurred vision and eye strain. If you experience problems with your vision during or after computer use, you should visit your eye doctor to have your eyes checked.

There are very few professions that don’t require using computers in some way. There are also very few households that don’t consider having at least one computer a necessity. Even though computers have been proven to make life easier, that may not always be the case when it comes to your vision.

“When we stare at the computer or do other visually intense activities for a long period of time, our blink reflex slows down,” says Edward H. Bedrossian Jr., M.D., F.A.C.S., chief of the Section of Ophthalmology at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. “Our eyes become tired and also tend to dry out faster.”

Because so many people rely on using computers and can spend hours in front of one without even a bathroom break, we may not even realize the effect that it is having on our eyes.

“Some symptoms that can occur when you are having vision problems due to prolonged computer use can include dry, burning, irritated eyes, blurred vision and eye strain,” says John S. Rizzo, M.D., chief of the Section of Ophthalmology at Taylor Hospital. “Headaches and fatigue can also occur when the eyes are irritated from prolonged computer use.”

Fortunately, there are some eye exercises that can be done throughout the day to limit the amount of strain on the eyes caused by computer use.

“Every five to 10 minutes, you should take short breaks from the computer,” says Christopher Williams, M.D., chief of the Division of Ophthalmology at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. “During those breaks, which can last just a minute or two, you should fix your eyes on a distant object, further than 10 to 20 feet away, to help refresh your vision. If you are experiencing dry or irritated eyes, artificial tears or lubricant eye drops may help.”

According to the American Optometric Association, many of the visual symptoms experienced by computer users are only temporary and will decline after stopping computer work. However, some individuals may experience continued reduced visual abilities, such as blurred distance vision, even after stopping work at a computer. If nothing is done to address the cause of the problem, the symptoms will continue to recur and perhaps worsen with future computer use. 

“If you experience problems with your vision during or after computer use, you should visit your eye doctor to have your eyes checked,” says Leonard Ginsburg, M.D., chief of the Section of Ophthalmology at Springfield Hospital. “Sometimes wearing glasses during computer use can relieve some of the symptoms. However, you must check to make certain nothing else is wrong. A complete eye and retinal exam should be considered.”

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the following when trying to avoid vision problems cause by computer use:

  • View the computer four to five inches below eye level; the monitor should be located 16 to 30 inches from your eyes, depending on how large the screen is and how good your vision is.
  • Position the computer screen to avoid glare from overhead lighting or windows.
  • Consider using a screen glare filter if you cannot position the computer to avoid glare.
  • Rest your eyes when viewing the computer for long periods of time. You should take a 15 minute break after every two hours of continuous computer use. Also, for every 20 minutes of computer viewing, look into the distance for 20 seconds to allow your eyes a chance to refocus.
  • To minimize your chances of developing dry eye when using a computer, make an effort to blink frequently. 

For more information or to find a Crozer-Keystone ophthalmologist who’s right for you, call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258) or visit www.crozerkeystone.org.

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