“Reading [on a tablet or laptop] for too long is bad for your eyes but often unavoidable in an academic setting. After how much time should you give your eyes a break, and how?”

—Erin, Victoria, Canada

Computers have taken over our lives. Before they were everywhere, humans used to take breaks; for example, students would get out of their chairs to look something up at the library. But now, Google is so accessible, we don’t need to get up anymore.

I’m glad you asked this question. When giving advice, health professionals want to be as evidence-based as possible. This is a field that has not been studied much to date, but I’ll tell you what we do know.

What’s the problem here?

The condition that results from reading visual display devices for too long is called asthenopia or computer vision syndrome.

The symptoms include: eye strain, headache, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain. This is a consequence of eye muscle strain, decreased blinking, poor posture, uncorrected vision, and bad ergonomics (how our equipment and work space are designed).

How can we manage these symptoms?
  • The “20-20-20” rule suggests that for every 20 minutes you look at a computer, you should look at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Take a break from using the keyboard and mouse or track pad. These breaks are good for your arms, wrists, and hands. Try to notice your posture as you use your computer to help limit neck and back strain.
  • Use lubricating eye drops to decrease the discomfort of dry eyes.
  • Make sure that your vision is corrected. If you have been prescribed glasses or contacts, wear them.
  • Some studies suggest doing eye exercises. You should consult an optometrist to find out about these.
  • If you’re using a desktop, the screen should be 20–24 inches away from your face to decrease strain in the eyes, neck,
    and shoulder.