We when we focus on a PC screen for any length of time, our eyes get fixated by the digital display and our blink rate drops to a very low level. This soon leads to dry eyes, headaches, and blurred vision.
OK, so far that's accepted scientific fact. But what about using a mobile? Is that better for your eyes than viewing a PC screen? Is it less likely to cause or exacerbate dry eye conditions?
Mobiles can be just as harsh on our eyes as PCs
It is a common perception that mobile phone use is more benign for the eyes as working in front of a PC.
But that is not normally the case. The key to understanding this issue is the contrasting way in which we regard PCs and mobiles, which sets up significantly different patterns of use.
Most people of working age tend to regard the humble desktop PC as a work tool, something to be used for office functions such as word processing, accounting, programming, and video conferencing.
We tend to use PCs in a relatively formal way
Whether we are working in an office or at home, we are likely to use our PC in a relatively formal and structured way.
We tend to sit up to a desk, our work area is normally well lit, we think about the optimum height at which the screen is positioned and the distance for most comfortable viewing.
We are encouraged to take screen breaks. And, importantly, we tend to use PCs during office hours when we our eyes are at their best.
We use our mobiles for relaxation
In comparison, we regard the mobile phone as a device for relaxation, for keeping in touch with social groups, for getting news, and for shopping.
Mobile use is now so prevalent that our phones have become like a personal extension of ourselves and are omni-present during our waking day.
This unstructured and unregulated pattern of mobile use has many implications for our eyes.
We tend to look at our mobiles whenever there is a 'down time' such as when we are having a screen break from the PC, during a lunch break, when we are travelling on the train, or in gaps in our conversation in the coffee shop.
We go straight from using our PCs to looking at our mobiles
So, rather than maintaining those all important breaks from digital viewing that help to restore our eyesight and lubricate the eyes with tear fluid, we go straight from using our PCs to looking at our mobiles. Our eyes are in effect, looking at screens almost without interruption for most of our waking day.
We look at our mobile screen in many more different environments than we do a PC. In a normal day this may include a coffee shop or restaurant, on a train or bus, in the car for sat nav, lying in bed or lounging on the sofa.
This means that the ambient lighting for digital viewing can be far from optimum. The space we are in may be heated comfortably as regards our body temperature but be too dry for eye comfort.
The reading position and screen distance when using mobiles can be far from optimum, varying from sitting up in a cafe to lying in bed.
We look at our mobiles when our eyes are tired
But perhaps most important of all is that we tend to keep looking at our mobiles when our eyes are tired and relatively dry anyway. So excessive mobile use really can be a serious cause of dry eye and computer vision syndrome.
Viewing a mobile is not inherently better than a PC
Excessive PC use is undoubtedly a major factor in the prevalence of dry eye syndrome in modern day business environments.
But it would not be correct to say that viewing a mobile screen is inherently much better for your vision than viewing a PC screen.
Whether PC or mobile, our eyes are still getting fixated by the display and our blink rate drops to similarly low levels.
Some researchers have pointed to the fact that on mobile displays, the text size is smaller than on the average PC screen, resulting in consequently greater eye strain.
And the informal way in which we regard mobiles means that we often look at them when our eyes are already dry and tired.
So how best can we help our eyes cope with digital eye strain?
So what are the best ways to help our eyes cope with the stresses and strains of the digital age?
- Take regular screen breaks to rest your eyes. That means proper breaks away from your screen and it doesn't mean immediately looking at your mobile screen instead!
- Use the 20:20:20 rule to look away from your PC or mobile screen and focusing on a distant object at regular intervals
- Think about improvements that you can make to environment in which you are using a digital display - and that means all screens from PCs to sat navs. For example, get yourself a desktop or room humidifier
- Consider printing documents rather than viewing them on screen, particularly long text documents or pages with small numbers on. Not so good for the environment as viewing them digitally, but in moderation (and observing careful paper recycling) a useful a way of reducing eye strain
- Wear moisture chamber glasses to keep your eyes moisturised during office hours
- Use anti-glare computer lenses to reduce the strain of looking at digital displays of all kinds
- Use eye drops, sparingly, when they are the only appropriate tool for managing eye dryness