Is Your “Screen Time” Giving You a Headache?

3 tips for taking a break from your screen — and avoiding head pain.

Screens are a huge part of daily life: There are days you may go straight from your smartphone to work computer back to your smartphone, and finally to tablets and TV at home. Sure, these devices make our lives easier, but all of that screen time can lead to eyestrain (1, 2) — and even screen headaches. (1, 2, 3)

In fact, according to one study review, anywhere from 64% to 90% of computer users studied reported some kind of symptoms, including eyestrain, dry eye, and headaches. (1) And eyestrain itself can be a migraine trigger for some, so computer screen headaches may be even more common.

Additionally, the American Optometric Association defines Computer Vision Syndrome (also known as Digital Eye Strain) as a group of vision-related issues that come from long-term use of devices. (3) Common symptoms of CVS include eyestrain, blurred vision, neck and shoulder pain and headaches. (3)

So should you do the unthinkable to avoid Computer Vision Syndrome and the computer screen headaches it could cause — give up your screens? Before you go on a complete screen shutdown, check out these three tips for giving your eyes — and hopefully your head — some time off.

Take a break. Giving your eyes a break from your computer screen can help prevent eye strain and might even improve work efficiency.(2) One rule of thumb is the 20/20/20 rule – every 20 minutes or so, look into the distance (about 20 feet) for 20 seconds.(2)

Get the lighting right. Glare and reflections on your computer screen, a universal issue for almost all monitors, can cause eyestrain (2). A simple solution is to darken the room, either by closing the blinds, or using dimmer switches or low-intensity light bulbs, so your screen has less to reflect. (2) Of course, you might not have control over these things (and your co-workers might not be willing to work in a cave-like environment), so another option is to consider an anti-glare cover. (2)

Print It Out. Small screens mean small text sizes, necessitating a closer position to your screen than you would have for printed materials.(1) We’re looking at you smartphones and tablets. This close working distance can create more of a demand on your eyes(1), possibly leading to Computer Vision Syndrome and its symptoms (eyestrain and possibly headaches). (3) So if you’ve got a lengthy document, consider printing a hard copy instead of saving it to your smartphone if you’re bringing work home. Some e-readers and mobile websites have text enlargement options, as well.

Still feeling the strain — and getting headaches from screens? See a doctor if self-care steps don't relieve your symptoms. And if you’ve gotten a new pair of glasses lately, don’t miss this article about the connection between your specs and your headaches.

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1. Rosenfield M. Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt 2011, 31, 502–515. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-1313.2011.00834

2. J. Tribleya, S. McClaina, A. Karbasia and J. Kaldenberg. Tips for computer vision syndrome relief and prevention. Work, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 85-87, 2011.

3. “Computer Vision Syndrome.” American Optometric Association. Last accessed October 30, 2015.


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