As a child, we’ve probably all been told not to sit too close to the TV, or to turn on the lights when staring at a screen. But the question is, how legitimate are these concerns? Well, it turns out that study after study has shown that staring at a screen for extended periods of time, regardless of lighting or distance, does not cause long-term damage. You can develop short-term symptoms however, (usually gone within the day), commonly known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). Keep in mind that most of what you read here also applies to books.
The myth that sitting too close to a screen can damage your eyes likely originated from the 1960’s. During this time, some faulty television sets emitted too many x-rays from the front vent. This problem was fixed in the same time period and certainly doesn’t exist today.
CVS normally occurs after 2 or more hours of continuous screen-staring. CVS is caused because your eyes get too dry when staring at a screen, and though you may not notice it, you actually blink less when staring at a screen. This exposes your eye to the air for longer and also reduces the number of times your eye is re-moisturized by blinking. Symptoms of CVS include:
- Eye fatigue
- Burning sensations in the eyes
- Itchy eyes
- Blurred vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Double vision
- Dry, red eyes
There are a few ways you deal with CVS. Having your computer screen slightly below eye-level, 20-28 inches away (adjust text size accordingly), and minimal glare, all contribute to preventing CVS. If you can, keep anything you need to look at (like papers) near your screen so you move your eyes/head as little as possible. It is also possible to obtain prescription glasses specifically for computer use, in which case you should talk to your optometrist.
Another method is the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Eye drops, as well as air humidifiers help moisten dry eyes. (See a doctor if you are using 5+ eye drops a day.)
Though there are no long term effects, knowing how to deal with Computer Vision Syndrome isn’t an excuse to sit in front of your computer or TV all day. Numerous studies say that sitting for long periods of time is very bad for all aspects of well-being.