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Computer vision syndrome is a modern form of eye problem that often only lasts temporarily. (Learn More) However, if eye strain and dryness from CVS continue, these can lead to other problems, including changes in visual acuity.
If you are worried about CVS, there are special glasses that can help reduce eye strain. (Learn More) These should have anti-glare coating, blue light shielding, and might feature additional tinting. If you wear prescription lenses already, your computer glasses can have this prescription included. (Learn More)
Do not self-diagnose computer vision syndrome and get over-the-counter glasses. This can actually increase eye strain. Work with eye specialists instead. (Learn More)
How Do I Know if I Have Computer Vision Syndrome?
Computer vision syndrome (CVS), sometimes called digital eye strain, is a term covering a collection of vision-related problems caused by prolonged use of computer screens, tablets, or smartphones. Looking at a digital screen for an extended period without a sufficient break can cause headaches, eye discomfort, and long-term problems if initial symptoms are not resolved.
To moderate this eye strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule. Take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away from you every 20 minutes.
Since computer and mobile screens tend to be close to the face, looking at something further away, especially that does not involve reading print or staring at a bright light, helps to alleviate tension in specific muscles in the eyes.
The following are the most common symptoms indicating CVS:
- Eyestrain, including tired eyes or painful eyes
- Blurry vision
- Dry eyes
- Shoulder and neck pain from poor posture
Uncorrected vision problems like nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism, can contribute to more uncomfortable symptoms from CVS. If you have corrected visual acuity problems, you can still develop CVS if you do not take care to monitor how long you have been at a screen and how uncomfortable you are after a day of work.
What Causes Computer Vision Syndrome?
Looking at a bright computer screen for a long time causes eye strain. Your eyes work differently when reading print on a screen compared to print in a book or newspaper. You may also develop eye strain if your computer screen is too high or low, or the tablet or smartphone is at an uncomfortable angle. Glares and reflections can also strain your eyes.
Computer vision syndrome is not caused by blue light or radiation coming from your computer screen, but overtaxing the muscles around your eyes by sitting in the wrong place, squinting, and moving your eyes in an unnatural pattern. Some additional strain may be added from not blinking enough. Dry eyes can lead to surface abnormalities and vascular problems in your eyes if not treated.
On a computer screen, images and text are created with pixels, which are miniscule points of light. There are thousands of pixels in any given image or word. However, our eyes have a difficult time focusing on images created by pixels, so we do not focus on one particular area as we would with a book, magazine, or newspaper. Instead, our eyes drift to the resting point of accommodation (RPA).
While we work on a computer, our eyes drift to the RPA, then strain to refocus on what we were just doing. Because this movement causes your eyes to continually flex and shift, the muscles responsible for moving the eyeballs become fatigued easily.
Early studies in CVS found that constant refocusing on the RPA led to spasms in the muscles around the eyes, which then led to muscle exhaustion and locking into place. From there, the eyes cannot relax easily, and this increased tension can cause minor changes in the cornea and eye shape. This then exacerbates nearsightedness if this condition is already present and induces temporary myopia if you are not already nearsighted.
If you think you have computer vision syndrome, get a comprehensive eye exam from an optometrist or ophthalmologist. The eye doctor will determine what your symptoms are and if there are any other potential causes of eye strain. They will measure your visual acuity field and refractive error, and test how well your eyes focus together.
In addition to the 20-20-20 rule and adjusting your workspace, there are supplementary steps you can take to maintain your visual acuity. Some doctors may recommend special glasses that reduce glare and eye strain, not only to alleviate symptoms, but to reduce the risk that CVS will come back. After making sure your computer screen is about 20 to 26 inches from your face, your chair supports proper posture, and you blink frequently, glasses can also reduce strain from digital work.
What Should I Look for in Computer Vision Syndrome Glasses?
Special glasses may help to alleviate eye strain while you work on a computer. These typically have anti-glare filters and reduce the constant refocusing pattern your eyes follow as you work. You may ask your optometrist about getting prescription CVS glasses, so your refractive error is corrected and eye strain is reduced. You may get tinted CVS glasses to reduce glare from bright overhead lights in your office.
Computer glasses typically have about 60 percent of the magnifying power of over-the-counter reading glasses, so they are not designed specifically to correct visual acuity. Working with your optometrist or ophthalmologist can help you get customized computer glasses. For example, it is important to make sure that the optical center of each lens is directly in front of your pupils. If this measurement is off, you can make your eye strain worse.
Types of computer glasses include:
- Single vision, which are like standard glasses without any transition lenses or tinting.
- Occupational progressive, which are progressive lenses that correct both nearsightedness and farsightedness, and reduce CVS. These typically have a larger intermediate zone from correcting nearsightedness to allowing for close-up work, which improves work at the computer but can reduce safety for driving.
- Occupational bifocal and trifocals, which have larger intermediate zones like the progressive lenses.
Computer glasses should include:
- Anti-reflective coating to reduce glare.
- Photochromatic lenses to shield your eyes from high-energy blue light that comes from digital devices.
- A subtle tint to reduce other wavelengths of light that may add to strain.
Optometrists and Ophthalmologists Can Help You Pick the Best Glasses for CVS
Even people who do not currently have computer vision syndrome symptoms may benefit from these special glasses, according to a study conducted by the University of Alabama, Birmingham School of Optometry. The study reported that people working a lot on a computer with few breaks developed productivity problems even when they did not report tired or sore eyes, headaches, and trouble focusing. This indicates that eye strain can lead to problems before other symptoms of CVS become apparent.
It is important to get a prescription for CVS glasses and avoid over-the-counter anti-glare or “computer” glasses. These are not the same, and they are not made to your specific visual needs, so they can increase eye strain rather than alleviate it. Working with an eye doctor ensures you get the right treatment for visual problems, headaches, and eye strain.
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Are Computer Glasses Worth It? (April 27, 2017). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
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Computer Glasses: Relieving Computer Eye Strain. (August 2017). All About Vision.