16 Feb What is Digital Eye Strain, Anyway?
At its simplest, digital eye strain is eye and vision-related, caused by spending extended periods of time on computers, tablets, smart phones, or gaming consoles. There is a good correlation between the number of digital devices someone owns and the amount of time spent using them. In some cases, extensive daily use is common (spending 8+ hours on a computer at work, then another few on a tablet or smartphone or gaming consoles during “off” time)1. Further, digital device use has broken all age barriers—grandparents use their devices to communicate with grandchildren, and younger people use tablets to read or play games. Even preschool children regularly use digital devices.
While the device of choice may differ (older people tend to prefer laptops and desktop computers for surfing the Internet, while younger people tend to prefer smartphones), social media use and multitasking on multiple devices simultaneously is commonplace among people under thirty.
With this increasing reliance upon digital devices comes an increasing percentage of people with vision complaints directly related to their digital device use. Complaints typically fall into two categories: vision problems (where the screen becomes more difficult to focus on), and abnormal sensations (i.e., dry eye). For some, these symptoms will be transient in nature but for others, symptoms will be frequent and persistent to the point of seeking medical attention.
DIGITAL EYE STRAIN
The above phenomenon has been a recognized health issue for the past twenty years. Originally called “computer vision syndrome,” the introduction and rapid acceptance of digital devices has broadened the overall category to be renamed “digital eye strain.”1
At its simplest, digital eye strain is eye and vision-related, caused by spending extended periods of time on computers, tablets, smart phones, or gaming consoles. In more technical terminology, digital eye strain “is a condition characterized by visual disturbance and/or ocular discomfort related to the use of digital devices and resulting from a range of stresses on the ocular system, including glare, defocus, accommodation dysfunction, fixation disparity, dryness, fatigue and discomfort.”2
One key point, however, is that signs and symptoms do not always correlate. For instance, external symptoms (such as a burning sensation, or irritation and tearing, or dryness) are all closely related to dry eye, but vision/internal symptoms (such as eye strain, or headaches behind the eyes) are linked more to vision stress.1 Digital eye strain is now being considered an emerging public health issue, and its effect on vision cannot be overlooked.
 Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and amelioration, by AL Sheppard, JS Wolffsohn, BMJ Open Ophthalmology, 2018.
 Management of digital eye strain, by C Coles-Brennan, A Sulley, G Young, Clinical and Experimental Optometry, 2019.