Skip to main content

As our screen time goes up, experts weigh in on coping with eye strain

If your eyes hurt while reading this story, you aren’t alone. A recent survey found that the amount of time American adults spend on digital devices daily has reached more than 11 hours compared to nine hours in 2016, due to the increasing power of smartphones and the 24/7 news cycle, and eyestrain is a growing problem.

“As more people spend more time on smartphones, they are looking at tiny letters, photos, and videos,” Dr. Norman Shedlo of the Eyecare Center of Maryland said in an interview with Digital Trends. “This makes the focusing demands on the eye very high, leading to eye strain for many people.”

But what can you do to help lessen the uncomfortable effects of eye strain?

Looking Too Closely

Woman working on laptop late at home.
Thana Prasongsin/Getty Images

Digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome, is the discomfort felt in your eyes after looking at a display for too long. It’s often associated with our proximity to screens including desktop and laptop computers, tablets, e-readers, and of course, smartphones.

The survey by Wantlens, a vision company, found that 93.5% of adults spend more than two hours a day using a digital device on average, with 70.1% using them for more than five hours a day, and 77% report experiencing symptoms of digital eye strain. It also found people are looking at their screens at all hours, with 78% of Americans looking at their digital devices the hour before going to sleep. Adults under 30 experience the highest rates of digital eye strain symptoms (73%) compared with other age groups.

The leading cause of digital eye strain is the increased effort required for our eyes to focus on a close task such as using a smartphone, Bhavin Shah, a behavioral optometrist, told Digital Trends. The muscles that move the eyes have to make the eyes turn inwards.

“The smartphone demands our attention in a way that is different from books or paper-based reading,” Shah said. “We can often spend hours on a smartphone without realizing it. When we are engrossed in a visual task, we suppress our blinking mechanism, which can lead to dryness and soreness in the eyes.”

The average person’s typical blink rate is about 18 times a minute, ophthalmologist Yuna Rapoport told Digital Trends in an interview. But whenever we are on any screen, including a smartphone, our blink rate goes down to four-to-six times per minute. This decrease causes dry eyes, irritation, and the feeling of eye strain.

Smartphones increase the problem

An iPhone displaying a high level of screentime.
Omid Armin/Unsplash/Digital Trends Graphic

Younger people are at risk as well. Digital Trends asked Vicky Fischer, an optometrist at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, about it. She has seen a “massive” increase in damage to children’s vision due to the increased screen use of tablets and mobile phones, as children attended school from home during the pandemic.

“People are increasingly using their devices beyond recreational use, whether for work or extracurricular activities, so they are more susceptible to eye strain.”

Shah also said he’s seen a recent jump in the number of patients complaining of eyestrain. He blames smartphones for their eye issues. Part of the problem is that the number of tasks that we can do on smartphones is growing, he said.

A person using the Apple iPhone 13 Pro.
Dan Baker/ DigitalTrends

“App developers are producing more varied solutions that can be performed on a smartphone and also designing apps that are keeping our attention,” Shah added. “Many social media apps use psychology in their algorithms in order to keep us using their app for longer.”

“As smartphones become more powerful they are replacing the functions of laptops and computers,” Shah said. “Combined with the pandemic, an increase in lockdown and working from home and a decrease in outdoor time, I think many occupations have an increased reliance on computers and smartphones (and increase stress in the current times of uncertainty) which has led to an increase in eye strain.”

Keeping Your Eyes Safe

iPhone SE 2022

If you find your eyes hurting after long hours looking at screens, what can you do to alleviate the problem? Rapoport gave some helpful suggestions. A good technique to use is the 20-20-20 rule, so every time you’re using a screen, remember to look 20 feet away for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes.

Preventing dry eyes can also help, and he recommends keeping preservative lubricating eye drops by the screen and using some every so often. Another tip is to hold the mobile device below your eyes instead of above, which keeps more of your eyelid covering your cornea and therefore more lubricated.

Shah recommends not to use a device in the dark, as your eyes struggle to adapt to a darkened room with a bright light source such as a smartphone.

“We’re designed to adapt to an even amount of light levels in our environment,” Shah said. “Some people lay on their sides in bed and use their phones in the dark, this has caused a temporary reduction in vision in one eye for some people.”

Limit your time

For Fischer, limiting time on a screen is the thing to do, suggesting you don’t use phones and tablets for more than 1 to 2 hours a day. If you have a hard time sticking to that limit, you might want to consider applications that can control screen time.

However, it’s still tough to do. If you are using a screen for more than 20 minutes at a time without a break, optometrist Molly King told Digital Trends in an interview you should consider a reading glass prescription to help with eye strain or fatigue, and blue light blocking filters to help alleviate eye strain.

If you’re suffering from eye strain, consider booking an appointment with an optometrist to understand if “screen time” glasses would help, and to investigate any issues with dry eyes.

Editors' Recommendations

Sascha Brodsky
Sascha Brodsky is a writer who focuses on consumer technologies and privacy issues for a broad range of outlets. He’s been…
OnePlus just teased the OnePlus 12, and it looks incredible
Woman holding a OnePlus 12.

The OnePlus 12 is set to launch on December 5 in China. Ahead of the launch, OnePlus has revealed a teaser and several images of the upcoming flagship. These confirm some major changes in the design and cameras. While the OnePlus 12 seems to build on this year’s OnePlus 11 design language, it is more refined and looks absolutely incredible in the green color option.

OnePlus is shifting the iconic Alert Slider to the opposite side. Up until now, all OnePlus flagship phones have featured the silent/vibrate switch above the volume buttons on the right side. But the OnePlus 12 is shifting it to the left side, and OnePlus has a good reason for it. “By relocating the Alert Slider to the opposite side of the phone, better gaming antennas can be deployed on the OnePlus 12,” says the company. It is said that the repositioning of Alert Slider will allow OnePlus to offer better antenna signal performance and reduce the “game latency by 15%.”

Read more
This Apple Watch is $179 for Cyber Monday, and selling fast
The World Time watch face showing on the Apple Watch SE 2.

Shoppers who have been holding out on buying a smartwatch should take advantage of this year's Cyber Monday deals, which currently includes a $70 discount on the current Apple Watch SE. This watch is usually $249, but it's down to only $179 with Walmart's Cyber Monday discounts applied. This is one of the best Cyber Monday smartwatch deals that we've found, so be sure to check it out yourself by tapping the button below. Keep on reading for more info about why this deal is proving so popular and why we recommend you shop it.

Why you should buy the Apple Watch SE
The latest Apple Watch SE is "simple, cheap, and brilliant" according to our review. It has all the essentials you need from a smartwatch. At all times, it'll track your steps taken, calories burned, flights of stairs taken, and more. Alongside that is Apple's Activity Rings system which motivates you into trying to achieve your goals every day. There are challenges and badges to unlock too while the watch will also track your walking speed and running speed, so you can always compete with yourself.

Read more
Cyber Monday deal knocks $80 off the Google Pixel Watch
The Google Pixel Watch's Pilot Bold watch face.

If you've considered buying the Google Pixel Watch but it's been too expensive, you'll be happy to see this Cyber Monday deal from Best Buy. Usually going for $200, the retailer has knocked a considerable $80 off the price tag, so it's a much more affordable option at $120 if you want a Google smartwatch. While it certainly is very stylish, if you're still not as convinced by it by the end of this, be sure to check out some other Cyber Monday smartwatch deals for some solid alternatives.

Why you should buy the Google Pixel Watch
While the Google Pixel Watch is older tech now, it's still very stylish and tempting. It has a great circular case with a crown on the side as expected. It's minimalist but super comfy to wear being very lightweight at just 64 grams. It has a Gorilla Glass case back to maintain good contact with your skin. The screen is a 1.2-inch AMOLED screen which looks great and suitably sharp.

Read more