Going Back to (Virtual) School – Does Constant Reading and Screen Time Harm Vision?

With the majority of classes occurring online thanks to concerns about the COVID-19 crisis, students are experiencing even more screen time than what would have been required in previous semesters. How is this additional reliance on screens – combined with reading traditional books – affecting our vision? Here’s what you need to know about eye fatigue. OptiExpress offers comprehensive eye exams, contact lens fittings, a gallery of designer frames, and a one-hour onsite lab.

Although classes currently aren’t in-person, and likely won’t be for the foreseeable future, that doesn’t mean that students are no longer pursuing their academic obligations. With online classes and video conferencing being the new classrooms, exposure to screens has increased significantly, which means an increase in the likelihood of digital eyestrain. Moreover, students will also have to read volumes of traditional texts, which might contribute to additional eye fatigue.

Recognizing Eye Fatigue

It is critically important to address any sudden and significant changes in vision, or any sudden eye pain, discomfort, or redness, immediately by visiting an optometrist or a full-service eye care center. Nevertheless, if you are experiencing headaches, neck pain, blurred vision, dry eyes, or eye strain after spending hours working on the computer, you likely have eye fatigue.

Eye fatigue commonly occurs because constant exposure to digital screens triggers a physiological “no blink” response, leading to dry eye and discomfort. Additionally, blue light from LED screens contributes to eyestrain because blue light waves force the eyes to engage in a more prolonged state of focus than with printed text. This overuse can lead to discomfort.

Fortunately, this in itself doesn’t lead to permanent vision loss (it’s a myth that being a bookworm or heavy reader can harm vision), but persistent discomfort and dry eyes can leave them susceptible to infections.

While reading on a computer screen causes the eyes to strain quickly, reading books or printed text for hours at a time is an extremely common cause of eyestrain, particularly if done in a poorly lit room.

Strategies for Relieving Eye Fatigue

When you must spend hours at your computer or just studying printed materials for an extended period of time, try to periodically relieve your eyes in the following ways:

  • Take breaks. Make sure to physically get up from your position and move around. Not only does this give your eyes relief, it helps facilitate circulation throughout your body.

  • Remember to blink. Blinking is normally an automatic response, but staring at computer screens for long stretches inhibits our own blinking instincts. Do your best to try to blink a few times every five minutes.

  • Use the 20/20/20 rule. The 20/20/20 rule is taking a break every 20 minutes for 20 seconds to look at an object 20 feet away.

  • Make sure your computer screen lighting is comfortable. Your computer screen lighting should be at the same level of brightness as your surroundings. When your computer is significantly brighter than your ambient light, you are more likely to experience eye strain.

OptiExpress founder Dr. J. Michael Witherington is proud to be one of Ft. Myers’s leading eye care specialists, having practiced in South Florida for over two decades. To schedule an eye exam at our Ft. Myers or Cape Coral location, please visit our contact page.