Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

December 2013

When you were a kid you probably heard your mom tell you that you'll ruin your eyesight if you read with inadequate light. Mom had the right advice for the wrong reason. Reading in low light won't damage your vision but it has some other detrimental, albeit temporary, effects: fatigue, blurred vision, eye irritation, and headache. Our pixelated population is encountering the same problems as a result of several hours a day locked onto digital screens in the form of television, digital games, smart phones and a growing array of notebook and tablet computers.

Numerous studies show that the average American, both child and adult, spends more than 7 hours a day screen-watching. For adults it's mostly television; children and adolescents spend less time watching TV but more hours texting each other and playing games on hand-held devices.

The human eye evolved to gaze at things that were about six yards or more away, not several inches. TV and computer screens have features not found in the natural world, glare and flicker. Glare might occur near a body of water but hunter-gatherers were not likely to look there for long. The flicker factor is strictly a modern phenomenon. Both contribute to what is becoming known as computer vision syndrome.

Persons who wear corrective lenses are more likely to encounter this condition but it occurs in at least 50 percent of regular computer users. Possibly as many as 90 percent of screen-watchers suffer from at least some of the symptoms of computer vision syndrome.

Working at a computer or similar device requires the use of eye muscles that can become fatigued. When we blink too infrequently while concentrating on constantly moving images we allow the surface of the eyeball to become dry and irritated. Starting at about the age of 30 the lens of the eye becomes less flexible, adding to eye fatigue.

A few simple steps can alleviate many if not most of the symptoms of computer vision syndrome. Computer users should be looking slightly downward at a screen, not upward. Reduce glare by adjusting the position of the screen as well as the room lighting. Dr. Jeff Anshel, a California optometrist, uses the 20-20-20 Rule: Take your eyes away from the screen every 20 minutes, rest your eyes for about 20 seconds and look at an object about 20 feet away — the 6 yards of the Stone Ager's range.

And don't forget to blink.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at