March Newsletter: The 20-20-20 Rule Can Help Prevent Digital Eye Strain

Man suffers from digital eye strain

The 20-20-20 Rule Can Help Prevent Digital Eyestrain

More Americans than ever before are suffering from sore, tired eyes due to eyestrain brought on by using digital devices. By following the 20-20-20 rule, in addition to making a few other changes to your digital viewing habits, can help you avoid painful eyestrain.

How to Tell If You Have Digital Eyestrain

Digital eyestrain, also called computer vision syndrome, occurs when your eyes are tired and over-worked. Eyestrain has become more common in the digital age for several reasons, including:

  • Decreased Blinking When Using Digital Screens
  • Poor Lighting
  • Glare
  • Crispness of Letters on the Screen (Digital letters are pixilated and aren't as sharp as the words on a printed page.)

According to a survey from The Vision Council, close to 60% of adults experience digital eyestrain. These symptoms were most commonly reported by survey respondents:

  • Neck and Shoulder Pain (35%)
  • Eyestrain (32.4%)
  • Blurred Vision (27.9%)
  • Headaches (27.7%)
  • Dry Eyes (27.2%)

Other digital eyestrain symptoms may include:

  • Red or Watery Eyes
  • Itching
  • Double Vision
  • Trouble Focusing Your Eyes When Using Screens

Using the 20-20-20 Rule to Reduce Eyestrain

Jeffrey Anshel, OD, FAAO, created the 20-20-20 rule in the early 1990s after noticing an increase in patients with eyestrain symptoms. Dr. Anshel quickly realized that many of his patients were experiencing the symptoms after using computers. He told Optometry Times that he wanted to develop a simple rule that would make it easy to remember to take frequent breaks.

The 20-20-20 rule is easy to follow and remember. After you've been looking at your phone or using your laptop or another digital device for 20 minutes, take a 20-second break. During the break, look at an object about 20 feet in the distance.

In addition to following the rule, you can take a few other steps to keep your eyes comfortable, including:

  • Moving Your Screen Away from Window and Bright Lights to Reduce Glare
  • Using Anti-Glare Screen Protectors
  • Taking a 30-Minute Break from Your Devices Every Two Hours
  • Reminding Yourself to Blink More Often to Moisten Your Eyes

Still Have Eyestrain After Following the Rule?

If you're diligent about taking breaks but still suffer from digital eyestrain, the problem could be due to an undiagnosed vision problem. Several vision conditions can increase your risk of digital eyestrain. Convergence insufficiency, a condition that affects your eyes' ability to focus on near objects, is one of them.

When you read or thread a needle, both of your eyes converge, or turn inward slightly. If you have convergence insufficiency, both eyes don't turn inward to the same degree. Convergence insufficiency makes it difficult to keep your place when reading, particularly if everything looks blurry or you start seeing double.

Strabismus and amblyopia are two other common conditions that increase your risk of digital eyestrain. Strabismus (crossed eyes) happens when your eyes are misaligned. Minor misalignments can cause just as much trouble as noticeable ones. If you have strabismus, your brain doesn't receive the same input from both eyes, which can cause blurry or double vision, in addition to light sensitivity.

If strabismus isn't corrected, your brain may eventually ignore the information it receives from one of the eyes. This condition is called amblyopia, or lazy eye. Lazy eye can affect your depth perception and cause fatigue, and blurred and double vision. According to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, 4% of Americans have strabismus.

Luckily, vision therapists can treat these and other conditions that increase your digital eyestrain risk. During vision therapy, you may play a special computer game that helps your eyes work together as a team or improve your focusing skills by following a small ball with your eyes. The activities in your vision plan are tailored to your condition and are designed to gradually improve your vision skills. Once your condition is well-controlled, you just might find that digital eyestrain becomes less of a problem.

Could vision therapy improve your vision and ease your digital eyestrain symptoms? Call our office today to schedule an appointment with the vision therapist.


American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus: Strabismus

Vision Council: The Vision Council Shines Light on Protecting Sight – and Health – in a Multi-Screen Era, 1/17/2019

American Optometric Association: Computer Vision Syndrome

Optometry Times: Deconstructing the 20-20-20 Rule for Digital Eye Strain, Feb 22, 2018


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