When it comes to eye health, chances are that you’ve probably been given some well-meaning directives since childhood. Perhaps you’ve been told not to squint at the television, or read at night. Maybe you’ve incorporated carrots into your diet after they gained popularity as an “eye-friendly” vegetable. Even if you consider yourself well-versed in ocular health, you may not know all of the facts about the emerging prevalence of digital eye strain. If you’re working from home, glued to your devices, or otherwise engaged in copious screen time, you should take proactive measures to minimize this condition. Below, leading Ophthalmologist and Retina Doctor, Tom S. Chang MD, Managing Partner of Acuity Eye Group, breaks down the facts about digital eye strain. Chang, named one of LA Magazine’s Top Doctors in 2020, lends his expert advice on navigating this growing ocular concern.

What Is Digital Eye Strain

The umbrella term “digital eye strain” is applied to multiple eye and vision-related concerns that arise from extensive device usage. The devices at play are blue-light emitting electronics, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other screens. While common symptoms of digital eye strain are often eye-centric, they can impact other parts of the body. For example, many people find neck and shoulder discomfort, and headaches. According to experts like Tom S. Chang MD, the severity of symptoms may vary greatly, from mild to excruciating. While most symptoms dissipate after devices are no longer in use, they can remain present long after digital usage is completed.

As countless individuals adapt to digital workplace environments, and children return to school remotely, digital device usage is undoubtedly soaring. As a result, increased numbers of individuals are experiencing various symptoms associated with digital eye strain. Tom S. Chang MD points out that while avoiding devices altogether may not be feasible to most people, there are proactive measures that can be taken to minimize risk, and alleviate symptoms.

Symptoms And Manifestations

When viewing screens for extended periods of time, many people report vision issues and eye discomfort. Discomfort can be manifested as dry eyes, tired eyes, or otherwise physically impacted eye regions. Tom S. Chang MD also reports that countless patients cite occasional blurred vision as a symptom of excessive device usage. Generally, these symptoms increase as the duration of device usage increases.

Other symptoms include frequent headaches, and neck and shoulder pain. These tertiary symptoms may impact overall wellness. Thus, digital eye strain can have lasting effects on the quality of life for many individuals.

Many symptoms and manifestations of digital eye strain can be attributed to substandard device usage conditions. These include poor lighting, excessive glares, inappropriate viewing distances, and poor posture. Chang also points out that individuals with uncorrected or undercorrected vision problems may experience exacerbated digital eye strain symptoms. This is likely due to the eyes having to overcompensate for limited vision assistance, such as outdated glasses and contact lenses.

When individuals view digital screens for any amount of time, their eyes must work harder to meet the high visual demands of screens. The bespoke eye focusing and movement requirements to actively view screens differ from viewing anything else during the day. Thus, the eyes must make adjustments, and work harder, to effectively view digital screens.


Digital eye strain can be diagnosed via a comprehensive eye exam. Other factors, such as average screen time, can be used to support examinations. Tom S. Chang MD points out that a patient’s history can rule out any potential symptom manifestations that are due to other factors. Sometimes, medications and other health-related concerns can elicit symptoms that coincide with digital eye strain. Visual acuity measurements can determine the extent to which vision is impacted by digital device usage.

During a diagnostic appointment, refractions may be used to determine what type of lens can compensate for the eye’s refractive shortcomings. This can help to determine whether corrective action is necessary. Finally, Tom S. Chang MD explains that medical professionals will determine whether a patient’s eyes can effectively work in unison. This is integral for effectively handling digital device viewing without negative impacts.

Treatment Options

While medical intervention may be necessary to alleviate digital eye strain, there are proactive measures that can be implemented to offset risks. For anyone utilizing screens for extended periods of time, experts like Tom S. Chang MD recommends following the 20/20/20 rule. As a general guideline, individuals should take a 20-second break to look away from their devices every 20 minutes. During this time, individuals should focus on an object at least 20 feet away. In conjunction with this practice, frequently blinking can stave off dry eyes.

In addition to frequent eye movement and refocusing, there are various proactive measures that can offset symptom emergence. For most people, placing a computer screen about 20 to 28 inches away from the eyes is optimal. The screen should also be about 4 to 5 inches below eye level. For most people, this can be easily accomplished by placing a computer on a traditional desk or table and sitting upright in a well-fitting chair. Tom S. Chang MD advises that individuals utilizing portable tablets and smartphones should follow the same screen location recommendations.

In addition to choosing appropriate screen locations, posture, and seating positions can play a pivotal role in preventing digital eye strain. Ideal chair height allows for individuals to be able to place their feet flat on the ground. Arms should be adjusted to provide support while typing, while wrists shouldn’t lay on keyboards while typing. Importantly, excessive slouching should be monitored, and leaning forward to read the screen should be minimized. For people who struggle to effectively read their screens, this intuitive leaning position is often responsible for neck and shoulder pain.

According to Tom S. Chang MD, avoiding and minimizing glare is an integral part of avoiding digital eye strain. Proactively positioning the screen to avoid glare from overhead lighting and windows will minimize negative effects. This can be accomplished by implementing blinds or curtains on windows and replacing high-wattage bulbs with softer lighting. Screen glare filters can also offer a physical barrier against glares.

Final Thoughts from Tom S. Chang MD

Ocular experts like Tom S. Chang MD recognizes that total avoidance of digital device usage is virtually impossible in the modern world. He understands that countless individuals rely on extensive digital usage for professional needs, personal expression, and entertainment. With increases in usage cited as a result of the ongoing social distancing measures impacting daily life, digital eye strain is a rapidly emerging condition. With a few proactive measures, Tom S. Chang MD explains that most individuals can mitigate risks, and alleviate potential symptoms.

Connect With Tom S. Chang MD

Twitter: @TomSChangMD
Facebook: tomchangmd
LinkedIn: tom-chang-291321109

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