Reducing digital eye strain

03 June 2019

In our modern world, the use of screens and digital devices is part of everyday life. Beyond the office, we use them to socialise, watch programmes and films, play games and communicate. Screen use is now the norm for both work and social hours. But what impact is all of this having on our eyes?

What is digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain (DES) is discomfort of the eyes and other symptoms that follow the use of digital devices.i It’s mostly temporary, and symptoms usually disappear after a break from screen use. But it can cause frequent and significant discomfort. ii

It’s thought that more than half of computer users experience DES. In 2016, it was estimated that UK adults spend, on average, 4 hours and 45 min per day using digital media. In many cases, this is likely to be more, especially if we look at the computer-based working population. iii

The following devices can all cause DES, especially if two or more are used at the same time, or if you switch between them. iv

  • Televisions.
  • Desktop computers.
  • Laptops.
  • Smartphones.
  • Tablets.
  • Gaming consoles.

The use of social media throughout the day and multitasking between screens is a particular concern. It’s not uncommon to see someone in an office using two desktop screens, with their smartphone also to hand. In fact, over 80% of those aged 20 to 29 report using two or more digital devices simultaneously on occasion. v

Using internal communications to encourage breaks

You might make it a focus of your internal communications to encourage staff to take regular breaks, get away from their computers at lunchtime, or to use their annual leave. Recent research by the company Glassdoor found that on average employees only took 62% of their leave entitlement for the year, and that even those who did take leave reported checking emails while they were supposedly off work.4 Managers and employers have a role to play in getting the message across that time off should mean time off – for the sake of health, wellbeing and ultimately productivity too, as burned-out staff are unlikely to perform well.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of DES can include: vi

  • eyestrain or fatigue
  • dry, red or irritated eyes
  • headaches
  • blurred vision
  • neck and shoulder pain

As a knock-on effect, these symptoms can impact productivity in companies that use screens and digital devices for much of its daily work. vii

Prevention and management of digital eye strain

Given the near-universal use of digital devices, it’s important to take measures to reduce DSE both at work and home. Talk to your team about DES and the things they can do to avoid eyestrain. viii

Screen useix

  • Make sure images and text on digital devices are sharp and in focus.
  • There should be no flickering on the screen.
  • Adjust the brightness of your device to suit your environment. For example, if you’re using a tablet in low light, reduce the brighteness of your screen to ease the strain on your eyes.
  • Make sure screen surfaces are clean.
  • Reduce any glare from sunlight or artificial light.
  • Text should be large enough to read easily on the device – you should be able to have it at a comfortable distance from your eyes to be able to read it clearly.
  • Select colours that are easy on the eye. For example, avoid red text on a blue background, or vice versa.

Changes in activityx

  • When using any digital device, look away into the distance from time to time, and blink often. Do you have a nice view from your office? What about your train journey home? Rest your eyes and absorb some nature while you do.
  • Break up long spells of screen use with device-free breaks. Take a walk at lunchtime instead of catching up on social media. This is not only good for your eyes, but your whole physical and mental health and wellbeing.
  • As a manager, make sure you plan activities, meetings or breaks around big projects that involve a lot of screen use.
  • Short, frequent breaks are better than longer, occasional ones.

After work, make a point of putting away devices, especially in the hour or two running up to bedtime. Give your eyes time to rest and most importantly, enjoy the beauty the world has to offer away from screens.

References

  • i Sheppard AL, Wolffsohn JS Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and amelioration BMJ Open Ophthalmology 2018;3:e000146. doi: 10.1136/bmjophth-2018-000146
  • ii Sheppard AL, Wolffsohn JS Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and amelioration BMJ Open Ophthalmology 2018;3:e000146. doi: 10.1136/bmjophth-2018-000146
  • iii eMarketer. Mobile takes majority share of UK time with digital media. 2016. https://www.emarketer.com/Article/Mobile-Takes-Majority-Share-of-UK-Time-with-Digital-Media/1014676 (accessed 10 Aug 2017)
  • iv Sheppard AL, Wolffsohn JS Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and amelioration BMJ Open Ophthalmology 2018;3:e000146. doi: 10.1136/bmjophth-2018-000146
  • v The Vision Council. Eyes overexposed: The digital device dilemma: digital eye strain report. 2016. https://www.thevisioncouncil.org/content/digital-eye-strain (accessed 10 Mar 2018).
  • vi The Vision Council. Eyes overexposed: The digital device dilemma: digital eye strain report. 2016. https://www.thevisioncouncil.org/content/digital-eye-strain (accessed 10 Mar 2018).
  • vii Sheppard AL, Wolffsohn JS Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and amelioration BMJ Open Ophthalmology 2018;3:e000146. doi: 10.1136/bmjophth-2018-000146
  • viii Sheppard AL, Wolffsohn JS Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and amelioration BMJ Open Ophthalmology 2018;3:e000146. doi: 10.1136/bmjophth-2018-000146
  • ix Working with display screen equipment (DSE). HSE. http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg36.pdf, first published May 2013
  • x Working with display screen equipment (DSE). HSE. http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg36.pdf, first published May 2013

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