March 1, 2012

Computer Screens and Visual Fatigue Syndrome (VFS)

By Michael Hittenmiller, O.D.
Eye Surgeons Associates

The increased use of computers and laptops in the workplace and at home has created greater demand on your vision. A study done by Essilor USA, a lens manufacturer, in 2004 found that 1,000 respondents 25 years and older averaged between six and seven hours per day at a computer. Of these respondents, 71 percent wore corrective lenses and still had symptoms of Visual Fatigue Syndrome (VFS): headaches, tired eyes, eyestrain, and neck and shoulder pain. And, 25 percent suffer from VFS symptoms every day. I’m sure it’s more today, with the popularity of smart phones, iPods, and video games. This type of “work” puts greater stress on near and intermediate vision. The following are common questions and answers about computers and VFS:

1. Can working at a computer all day cause eye problems?

Answer: There is no conclusive evidence that computer displays cause any visual problems, but it can aggravate existing ones, even minor ones that do not affect other seeing tasks such as normal reading or driving. Visual discomfort is experienced when the demands of the visual task exceed the individual’s visual ability.

2. Can computer screens be associated with eye strain?

Answer: Yes. A variety of symptoms including eye irritation, dry eyes, eye fatigue and difficulty focusing may be noted. Headaches, backaches, or muscle spasms may also occur. Fortunately, these complaints often result from conditions that can be remedied by either changing elements in the work station design or providing proper glasses for the user. Although eyestrain is an annoying symptom, there is typically no permanent damage.

3. How can eye strain be prevented?

Computer users prefer a viewing distance a little further away than they would normally use for reading a book or magazine. The top of the screen is most comfortably placed at or slightly below eye level. Any reference material should be as close as possible to the screen as practical to minimize large head or eye movements and focusing changes.

Lighting should be arranged so reflections and glare are minimized. Sometimes standard office lighting is too bright for comfortable use. If modification of the office lighting is not practical, hoods, glare screens, or filters can be used.

Periodic rest breaks are important. Using a computer requires a fairly unchanging body, head and eye position which can be fatiguing. Frequent blinking will lubricate the eyes and prevent them from drying out. Occasional use of artificial tears may also be useful. Finally, proper eye glass prescriptions will allow your eyes to focus correctly when on the screen.

4. Sometimes I can’t see my computer screen clearly with my glasses. Is there a solution?

Answer: Since the screen is usually placed further away and higher than the usual reading distance, different glasses may be necessary. This is especially true for individuals who wear bifocals, trifocals, or reading glasses. A bifocal height may need to be raised to compensate for the higher positioning of the screen. You may also need to switch to trifocals, at least for using the computer. Trifocals give you 3 lens prescriptions, one for distance, one for near and one for intermediate distance which is where your screen is usually located. Another option, occupational lenses, are designed to allow for specific working distances. This would require a second pair dedicated to using for computer work. The lens manufacturers have introduced computer lenses that provide full screen vision at intermediate distance and a wide near area to provide a smooth transition from looking at the keyboard or documents. This creates a more comfortable visual experience. For patients who don’t need readers quite yet, but still suffer from VFS, there is an Anti-Fatigue lens that provides a slight plus power in the lower section of the lens giving a little boost for better visual accommodation. The proper eyeglass prescription and type of eyeglass used ultimately depends on the person’s individual needs.

Dr. Hittenmiller has been an optometrist with Eye Surgeons Associates since 1985. He is a member of the Iowa Optometric Association and the American Optometric Association. He practices out of our Bettendorf, Iowa office. Established in 1983, Eye Surgeons Associates provides, providing your best vision for life. For more information visit