You asked, we answered: Can too much screen time cause dry eyes?

Man playing video games on a computer


I am a longtime PC gamer and have been dealing with dry eyes for the last few years. Can this be caused by too much screen time?

Answered by Ana Morales, MD, ophthalmologist:

Screens have become an integral part of our daily lives. However, consistent exposure to digital displays can have unintended consequences, one being dry eyes.

Dry eye is a condition in which the eyes fail to produce enough tears for proper lubrication. This lack of moisture causes discomfort and can affect one's quality of life, causing symptoms like:

  • Stinging, burning or scratchy feeling in your eyes
  • Discharge
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Feeling like something is in your eyes
  • Eye redness
  • Problems wearing contact lenses
  • Watery eyes as your body tries to respond to irritated eyes
  • Eye fatigue or blurred vision
  • Itching

The screen connection

Growing evidence suggests that prolonged screen use can lead to dry eye. The reason for this lies in the simple yet crucial act of blinking.

Blinking helps maintain moisture in our eyes, but when we use screens, our blink rate significantly decreases. Studies have shown that focusing on computer screens or other digital displays reduces our blink rate by a third to one-half. This can lead to dry eyes.

The more you use screens, the greater your risk of developing dry eye symptoms. Furthermore, as you age, you become even more susceptible to the condition.

Preventing dry eyes in the digital age

To reduce the risk of developing or worsening dry eyes due to screen time, consider these tips:

  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Adjust screen brightness and contrast to comfortable levels.
  • Keep screens at a downward angle and at a comfortable distance.
  • Stay hydrated and maintain a healthy diet.
  • Regularly use artificial tears if you already have dry eyes.

Treatment for dry eyes

The good news is dry eye is manageable, and several therapies can help alleviate symptoms. These include the following over-the-counter options:

  • Eye drops, known as artificial tears
  • Lid wipes
  • Lubricating ointments

Additional treatments, such as pulse light therapy, or IPL, and prescription medications are also available.

Regular visits to your primary care doctor and undergoing an annual eye exam are important to maintaining good eye health. If you notice any discomfort or changes in your vision, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with an eye specialist.

Need help for dry eyes?
Schedule an appointment with one of our eye specialists at 402.559.2020.