Why too much screen time is bad for your eyes

Man rubbing his eyes

RACV Staff

Posted January 12, 2023

Getting headaches, blurred vision or dry eyes from staring at your screen? Follow these expert tips to beat digital eye strain.

Whether you’re using a computer for work or settling into a Netflix binge session, your daily dose of screen time could be digitally draining the health of your eyes. Screen images are made up of many tiny pixels, making your eyes work harder than staring at a stable object like a print book. Your eyes also aren't meant to stare at a fixed distance for too long.

When your eyes are glued the screen for two or more hours, whether that's a smartphone, computer, e-reader or television, you can develop digital eye strain. And it's getting worse: the 2022 Vision Index Report by Optometry Australia reports that 88 per cent of people experience sore or tired eyes when using a computer or tablet for work, a 9 per cent increase from 2020.

OPSM have developed range of lenses and lens coatings designed specifically for office workers, which can increase visual comfort and reduce the impact of eye strain symptoms. RACV Members save up to 25% off lenses and lens extras at OPSM.* Members can also access a free Ultra-Wide Digital Retinal Scan at OPSM** to aid in detecting general health issues or eye conditions.

What is digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain is the physical discomfort you feel after two or more hours looking at a digital screen, according to OPSM Optometrist Lucas Lister.

"On average, working-age Australians now spend over 6 hours a day staring at screens^," Lister says. "That's a marathon amount of time for your eye muscles to stare at a fixed mid-range distance."

What are the symptoms of digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain symptoms can include:

  • Tired, achy, weak or heavy eyes
  • Dry, scratchy or sandy eyes
  • Irritated, itchy, burning or teary eyes
  • Mild eye redness
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches.

How do I fix digital eye strain?

Although there are no official guidelines for safe daily screen time for adults, experts agree that regular breaks are vital to protect your eyes from digital eye strain. But there’s no need to cancel your next FaceTime chat or switch to Airplane Mode just yet. Lister says there are several simple things we can do to combat the effects of digital eye strain and keep using our screens.


man and woman both wearing glasses as they garden

Spending time outside each day can help reduce digital eye strain. Image: Supplied. 

Eight expert tips to prevent and reduce digital eye strain

Track your screen time

Many people underestimate how much time they looking at screens each day. Smartphones and computers often come with built-in apps that track your screen time, which can be useful to review so you understand how much of your day is spent digitally. There are also several free apps that can block certain apps or social media sites after a certain time limit per day to encourage you to decrease your screen time.

Blink it out

"Remind yourself to blink while working," Lister advises. Healthy eyes blink 15 to 20 times per minute according to Healthline, which keeps your eyes moist and oxygenated while clearing out debris like dust and eyelashes. Looking at screens can halve your blinking, leading to eye strain and dry, irritated eyes. Making a conscious effort to blink more often when you use screens can help remedy this problem. Try popping a sticky note on your computer screen as a reminder to blink.

Stay hydrated

One of the most common digital eye strain symptoms is dry, itchy eyes. Your eyes will lose further moisture when you’re dehydrated, which can also lead to blurry vision and headaches. When you're sitting in front of a screen, keep a jug of water on hand as a nudge to stay hydrated. Your skin will also thank you!

Follow the 20-20-20 rule

Just like your glutes or biceps, your eyes need a break during workouts. Follow the 20-20-20 rule throughout your screen time to give your eyes a well-deserved rest. Every 20 minutes, shift your gaze to look at an object at least 20 feet (6 metres) away for at least 20 seconds. The easiest way to do this is to look out the window at something outside.

Adjust your display settings

Your eyes have to work harder if your screen glows brighter than your surroundings. Adjust your screen brightness throughout the day or night to match the level of light around you. You can also adjust text size and colour contrast for your visual comfort, especially when reading or writing long documents. Generally, the standard black print on a white background is the best combination for your eyes.

Reduce glare and blue-violet light

Digital devices often reflect a lot of glare, making your eyes work harder to focus. Try using a matte screen filter to cut glare or cover your windows to avoid outside light shining on your screen.

They also emit blue-violet light, which comes mainly from the sun but also your digital devices and artificial light sources like LED lightbulbs. Blue-violet light tells your brain to keep your body awake, so looking at screens late at night can negatively affect your sleep patterns. Reduced sleep can further irritate and dry out your eyes, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Even if you don't require prescription lenses, OPSM can fit blue light lenses to your choice of frames. Simply talk to a staff member at your local OPSM store if you want non-prescription blue light lenses.

Perfect your positioning

Maintain your digital distance when scrolling or surfing on digital devices: looking at screens too close to your face will decrease blinking. "Adjust your computer screen so it's one arm's length in front of your face," Lister advises.

woman reading outside while wearing glasses

Make sure to take regular eye breaks using the 20/20/20 method. Image: Supplied. 

Get an eye check

"Regular eye tests are critical for all Australians, yet it is estimated that two million Australians aged between 18 and 44 have either never had their eyes tested, or have failed to get them tested in the past five years^^," Lister reveals.

Book regular eye checks (at least every two years) with an optometrist to make sure your eyes are in good health and access the appropriate vision correction for your eyes. RACV Members save up to 25% off lenses and lens extras when purchased as a complete pair (with frames).*

“The misconception is that only those who have corrective eyewear need to have their eyes tested," says Lister. "However eye tests may also pick up on eye diseases such as glaucoma, as well as indicators for broader health issues such as diabetes. A comprehensive eye examination may catch eye disease and vision deterioration early, so you can best manage your eye health. Luckily, from 16 January to 5 February 2023 RACV Members receive a free Ultra-Wide Digital Retinal Scan at OPSM.** The scan enables a view the back of your eye four times wider than a standard digital retinal scan.

This technology may assist in the early detection of diseases such as glaucoma, retinal tears, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Such diseases may be missed by a standard digital retinal scan, particularly if the problem area lies on the outskirts of the retina.


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* 25% off lenses and lens extras for Auto Club members when purchased as a complete pair (with frames). Offer valid from 16 January 2023 to 5 February 2023. Present your Auto Club card to redeem offer. Conditions apply; see staff for details.

** To be redeemed with standard eye test. Offer valid from 16 January 2023 to 5 May 2023. Subject to appointment and store availability. Ask your optometrist if this scan is suitable for you. Conditions apply; see staff for details.

^Milward Brown 2014 AdReaction Report.

^^OPSM research conducted by Pure Profile in May 2012 from a sample size of 1009 people across Australia aged 18 to 65+. Population figure calculated using 2010 population statistics provided by Australian Bureau of Statistics – www.abs.com.au.