Why Do Computers Cause Dry Eyes?

Dr. Russel Lazarus, October 22, 2021

Over 60% of adults use a digital device for at least 5 hours a day— a major cause of dry eyes.

If you’re like most people, you spend much of your day staring at a computer, tablet, or smartphone both at work and on your own time.

Excessive screen time can cause eye dryness and discomfort, and a condition called computer vision syndrome, also known as digital eye strain.

What is computer vision syndrome (CVS)?

More than ever before, our eyes are being challenged to focus on very close objects for longer periods of time.

Many of us spend numerous hours a day looking at images and details on digital screens, whether on a cell phone or a laptop. Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is a negative outcome of this behavior.

Computer vision syndrome can affect your office performance and productivity.

People who use computers often may have significantly more discomfort if they already have an eye issue, such as mild dry eyes or allergies.

How do computers cause dry eyes?

It’s nearly impossible to avoid computers, which is why we need to understand how dry eyes can be influenced by using computers.

1. Lower blink rate

According to a study published by BMJ Open Ophthalmology (2018) people blink more than 50% less when using a computer.

On average, people blink only 5 times per minute when looking at a screen, but when they usually blink 10-12 times per minute while doing other daily activities.

Blinking allows tears from our glands to spread across our eye’s surface. Tears are essential for keeping our eyes moist and healthy, so blinking less frequently will cause the eyes to feel dry and irritated.

2. Lack of hydration

It can take hours to compose an essay or engage in intense online gaming. When we’re focused on a task, it’s easy to overlook some of the other signals our bodies send us.

One of those things is drinking and hydration.

According to medical professionals, people should drink between 2-3 liters of water every day, depending on their body size. 

Drink plenty of water while surfing the web to avoid exacerbating dry eye symptoms.

SEE RELATED: When is Blurred Vision a Medical Emergency?

Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor near you who can diagnose and treat your dry eye.

Find an eye doctor near you

Why do dry eyes cause blurry vision?

When the eyes become dry, most often the very first noticeable sign is blurry vision.  This occurs because the tears are unable to adequately coat the surface of the eye, resulting in a rougher surface that disrupts visual comfort and clarity.

What are the best treatments for dry eyes from computer use?

If excessive screen time is leading to uncomfortable dry eye symptoms, there are ways to alleviate your discomfort.

For mild to moderate dry eyes, you may find that over-the-counter artificial tears lubricating eye drops, gels or ointments are all you need to get the relief you seek.

However, if your symptoms persist or worsen, your eye doctor may recommend an in-office dry eye treatment which will treat the underlying cause of your dry eyes, such as blepharitis or meibomian gland dysfunction.

Tips to avoid dry eye

Use a humidifier: It delivers moisture to dry indoor air, preventing your eyes from drying out.

Blink more: Blink frequently, especially if you’re staring at a screen for an extended period of time.

Try eye drops: Occasionally use artificial tears to keep your eyes moist. These eye drops are the best when it comes to preventing computer eye strain, unless your symptoms are rooted in a deeper problem that requires more extensive dry eye treatments.

Drink water: To avoid dehydration, try to drink 8-10 glasses a day.

Don’t smoke: Cigarette smoke aggravates the irritation of dry eyes even more. If you currently smoke, you now have additional incentive to stop.

Keep screens at arm’s length: The average person holds their smartphone or small device 8 to 12 inches away from their face. It’s best if you keep your gadget at least 20 inches away from your face.

LEARN MORE: Guide to Blurry Vision and Headaches

Contact an eye doctor near you to discuss treatment options for your dry eye.

With a comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor can determine the underlying cause of your dry eye and prescribe an effective treatment based on your individual needs and lifestyle.