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What is Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) and Tips on How to Stop It

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Around a year ago I developed an odd seasick like nausea when staring into a computer monitor. It would sometimes become so bad that I would sometimes become pretty much incapacitated by it and unable to work. I battled through this problem for a year, thinking that it was just some strange psychological or physical reaction towards putting in far too many long days in front of a computer, but recently it became too much: something real was clearly wrong.

I looked into the issue the way modern humans seem to do: I typed “why do I get nauseous looking at a computer screen” into a search engine and, to my surprise, a wave of relevant results were returned. There ended up being seas of people out there wondering why their computers all of a sudden started making them sick. The culprit, so it seems, is something called computer vision syndrome, or CVS.

What is Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)?

Computer visions syndrome (CVS) is a condition that an estimated 90% of people who spend 3+ hours on computers daily are said to suffer from to some degree. It results from concentrating on a computer monitor for extended lengths of time without interruption, and symptoms are dry, irritated, and strained eyes, headaches, double vision, polyopia, difficulty refocusing the eyes, and, in extreme cases, nausea, dizziness, and a general not well, seasick like feeling. Though there have not been any concrete long term problems found to be resulting from CVS, its effects can be severely debilitating for habitual computer users in the short term.

Glare from a computer screen can aggravate CVS

These symptoms of CVS are often caused from using a computer for extended hours daily, reading on a monitor in low light settings, glare reflecting off the monitor, continuous use of a computer in a room lit by florescent lights, air moving past the eyes (such as from a vent, fan, wind, or air conditioning unit), looking up rather than down at the monitor, and screen refresh rate (irrelevant for laptop users). Continuous reading on a computer screen can make CVS far worse, as looking at words on a screen is particularly hard on a person’s eyes because of the fact that they are formed from pixels that the eyes cannot readily lock into view, which causes them to continually focus and refocus.

From my research I cannot say for sure why or how CVS can make a person nauseous, but I believe that it may have something to do with the hyper-focus that is required to read on a monitor (especially in poor lighting conditions) mixed with constant scrolling — creating a visual plane that can knock off a person’s equilibrium. I do not have any problems watching videos or movies on a screen, just reading or coding for hours on end. I also found that the more I scroll the worse the effects are. Also, lighting is an important factor, as I only experience CVS when in rooms with pale, dim lighting either from electric bulbs or insufficient windows. I am still searching for data to back up this claim, but, regardless, I’ve discovered that the following tips help to alleviate my experience of CVS.

Video of poor lighting conditions that can cause CVS

Tips to decrease Computer Vision Syndrome

Decrease glare on a computer screen

If you see lights reflected back to you from your monitor or the frame around it, it may be a good idea to position yourself or angle your screen so this glare disappears. Overhead lighting seems to provide the most glare, so keep this in mind when finding a good place to work. Replacing bulbs with those of lower wattage is also suggested as a way to reduce glare. From my experience, doing a quick “glare check” prior to getting into a session of computer usage greatly reduces eye strain and CVS.

Use eye drops

Eye drops can be used to alleviate dry eyes as can be caused from long duration computer usage. When using computers people tend to blink below a normal rate, and many problems related to CVS are related to this. Using eye drops can help counteract these problems.

Look away from the monitor periodically

The 20/ 20 rule — where you look away from the computer monitor every 20 minutes into a distance at least 20 feet from you for 20 seconds — can be used to help alleviate the effects of CVS.

Blink intentionally

Blinking intentionally and “deeper” can help keep eyes moist and reduce eye strain.

Close eyes periodically

Closing your eyes for a few moments when in the midst of a long term run on a computer can help to relax them and lower the symptoms of CVS.

Massage eyebrows

There are many acupressure points in the eyebrows, and massaging them can help to relax the muscles in the face and eyes. This also feels good and can help warrant periodic breaks from staring into the monitor.

Type without looking at the monitor

I found this to be one of the best ways to subvert CVS. When typing I try to look away from the monitor as much as possible, giving my eyes a break.

Position the monitor screen tactically

A computer screen should be positioned 15 to 20 degrees below eye level (4 to 5 inches) and roughly 20 to 28 inches from the face.

Turn on ClearType on machines running Windows XP

ClearType is a screen options for Windows XP users that makes text easier to read on a monitor. To turn it on, do the following:

  1. Click Start, click Control Panel, click Appearance and Themes, and then click Display.
  2. On the Appearance tab, click Effects.
  3. Click to select the Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts check box, and then click ClearType in the list.

Avoid low lit rooms

I found that low lighting — natural or artificial — often aggravates or even causes my experience of CVS. I try to always work in well lit rooms.

Print out long documents that you want to read

This is perhaps not the most resource wise strategy, but printing out long online documents and reading them in print is one of the best ways to curb continuous scrolling and reading on a computer screen. Sitting back and reading on paper also provides a good break from the monitor.

Computer vision syndrome conclusion

I spend my days reading and writing on a computer. This is my job. I can’t go to work and feel seasick all day. I needed to devise a strategy to curb CVS, and I found that the above remedies work. CVS is particular problematic for digital nomads, as our computers are not only our work devices but our entertainment and communicate mediums as well. Knowing how to beat this almost inevitable condition is key to finding enjoyment as a traveling webmaster.

External resources

CVS – Computer vision syndrome
Computer vision syndrome
Computer vision syndrome Wikipedia

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About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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