By Tracy Wright

On average, Americans now spend seven hours a day in front of digital screens, either at home or working from an office, according to the American Optometric Association. Computer vision syndrome, or digital eye strain, has been recognized fairly recently as a cause of ocular discomfort and eye strain.

Some estimates suggest that among people who spend three hours a day or more at the computer, up to 90 percent may experience some of the symptoms of computer vision syndrome, including blurred vision, ocular fatigue, dry eyes, trouble focusing, headaches, and neck and shoulder pain.

“The prevalence of digital eye strain has increased as more people spend time in front of computers, tablets, cellphone screens and other digital devices,” said Erich P. Horn, M.D., M.B.A., board-certified ophthalmologist and associate professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology. “Although digital eye strain has not been shown to permanently damage the eyes or vision, we know many people find eye strain from trying to continuously focus on the small print for hours on end uncomfortable and it limits their productivity and their enjoyment of work.”

For people who may believe they are suffering symptoms of digital eye strain Horn suggested some simple tips and tricks that may help. One is using the 20-20-20 rule: take a 20 second rest to look at something more than 20 feet away every 20 minutes.

“The 20-20-20 rule is a good place for all of us to start. This relaxes the eyes’ focus, encourages blinking and allows for a change in neck and shoulder posture, among other benefits,” Horn said. “Another good suggestion is to take a break to go outside and be in natural sunlight.” A 2011 study published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology found that for every extra hour per week a child spent in outdoor activity, his or her likelihood of suffering from nearsightedness declined 2 percent.

There are also other factors that may be exacerbating digital eye strain, such as inadequate or too much lighting or glare, and air flow that may be contributing to dry eye or production of tears. Without enough tears and an inadequate blink rate, staring at a screen can lead to ocular discomfort and blurred vision in less than an hour, Horn said.

“Doing a variety of activities throughout the day makes a lot of sense to avoid uncomfortable eye strain, which seems worse after long, uninterrupted periods of close attention in front of a digital screen,” he said.

If these tips and tricks do not seem to improve symptoms, Horn suggested that people seek an eye examination from an ophthalmologist or an optometrist. They can diagnose digital eye strain and look for other physical problems with the eyes. The eye doctor will see if glasses might be helpful, check for dry eye, and examine the eyelids, corneas and other parts of the eyes to ensure they are healthy and doing their part for clear vision.