Digital Eye Strain and the 20-20-20 Rule

Between Netflix binges, responding to emails and handling projects at work, and a never-ending stream of social media notifications, the average American adult spends over 10 hours and 39 minutes staring at screens each day. While people debate the impact that this much screen time has on our lives, they should also consider the impact it has on our eyes: staring at screens and electronic devices for prolonged periods of time can lead to digital eye strain, which causes dry eyes, headache, shoulder pain, and other symptoms.

What is Digital Eye Strain?

When you stare at a screen for too long, whether you’re trying to work or just relax, your eyes may begin to hurt and experience a range of symptoms that ophthalmologists refer to as digital eye strain. These symptoms include dry eyes and diminished tear production, blurred or double vision, difficulty focusing, soreness in the neck, shoulders, or back, headaches, and more.

It’s important to note that digital eye strain does not likely lead to permanent vision loss or eye damage. Instead, it is the eyes’ response to overuse, and similar forms of eye strain occur after extended periods of reading, writing, or other “near work.”

The 20-20-20 Rule

It can be hard to go throughout the day without spending time staring at our computers, tablets, and smartphones, so you can apply the 20-20-20 rule to help you alleviate digital eye strain. It’s simple and easy to follow: If you’re using a digital device, every 20 minutes, spend at least 20 seconds looking at something at least 20 feet away from you. This gives the eye time to relax after periods of intense focus on an object that is very close. To remind yourself to take these little breaks, you can set a timer or use an app like Eye Care 20 20 20 to prompt you to look away from the screen.

Other Measures

The 20-20-20 rule is a great way to fight digital eye strain, but it’s not the only tool in your eye care repertoire. When using technology, for example, try to keep devices at least 25 inches from your eyes and angle screens so that you have to look down. You can also adjust glare settings to a less-intensive brightness (preferably to one that is not much brighter than the surrounding light). Additional tips include drinking water to stay hydrated and help your eyes produce tears, wearing specialized glasses that filter out blue light from digital devices, using artificial tears or eyedrops, and more.

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