Eye strain in digital life

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There is a Bengali saying which roughly translates into something like we don’t appreciate the blessing of having teeth while we have them. It advises valuing things when they are still in good shape, or we may have to regret later.

In today’s technology-driven world, the pressure on our eyes is more than ever. And the idiom mentioned above is more appropriate for the eyes as well.

It is almost impossible to find anyone who has not suffered from eye strain at least once in their life. It can be very uncomfortable and inconvenient, and continuous strain without any mitigating measures may cause lasting damage to our eyes.

Eye strain is not a disease, rather, a group of symptoms following extended use of our eyes. Eye strain can be manifested in several ways like headaches, dryness in the eyes, blurred vision and sometimes, even neck and shoulder pain.

One of the commonest factors for eye strain nowadays is excessive use of digital screens, e.g. computers, gaming devices, cellphones or any digital screen. This is so prevalent that ophthalmologists coined a new term Computer Vision Syndrome, or Digital Eye Strain to categorise it.

It has been estimated that on average, an adult spends approximately seven hours a day on the computer. This becomes particularly problematic when we are trying to see the screen under dim light or using extreme brightness or glare.

Normally people blink 15-20 times every minute to prevent dryness and irritation. Unfortunately, when we are staring at our computer or cellphone screen, the blinking decreases. As a result, there is dryness of the ocular surface, leading to eye strain.

Eyes work harder than normal when we are looking at a digital screen. The texts on the computer or handheld device often are not precise or sharply defined, and the level of contrast of the letters to the background is reduced.

Added to that, there the glare and reflections on the screen. The high visual demand is often not compensated by adequate resting time for our eyes. Consequently, people may develop many eye problems. If we have pre-existing vision problems with glasses, the symptoms of eye strain will be worse.

Usually, the problem of eye strain will be relieved after resting our eyes for some time. But it is imperative that we adopt some protective measures to reduce the occurrence and severity.

One way of doing that is to use a matte screen filter to prevent glare. Another common thumb rule we can follow is 20-20-20. This is translated as every 20 minutes we should look at an object 20 at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

Also, continuously staring at the screen is not advisable and it is important to take a break of 15 minutes every 2 hours. We should also make an effort to blink frequently when working on a computer or any other digital screen.

Ensure appropriate lighting in the room where the device is being used. It should not be too dim or too bright. For people who wear contact lenses, it might be helpful to switch to glasses once in a while for using the devices.

There are a few adjustments we can do with our devices, especially computers as well, to decrease the risk of eye strain.

First of all, it is crucial to place the computer screen at a proper distance and angle. Optimally, the screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level which is about 4 or 5 inches as measured from the centre of the screen and 20 to 28 inches from the eyes.

Working chairs should also be properly aligned so the feet rest on the floor with the arms on the armrest. It is advisable not to place the wrists on the keyboard while typing. 

Though eye strain generally is not serious, it may become so if there is ongoing pain, redness, visual loss, or irritation of the eyes. Under these circumstances, it is necessary to consult an eye doctor and get the proper care.


Imtiaz Ahmed completed his MBBS from Dhaka Medical College.

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