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Can Screen Time Cause Dry Eyes?

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A young female student is suffering from digital eye strain. She is massaging her eyes after long hours of looking at the screen of her tablet .

You’ve probably never met someone who loves having dry, irritated eyes. Unfortunately, dry eye disease is a prevalent condition in Canada and especially in dryer climates like Alberta. And with it, digital eye strain symptoms have grown over the years as our use of digital screens increases.

Whatever the cause for your dry eyes, it’s important they’re treated promptly. Although dry eyes and digital eye strain often accompany each other, it’s fair to wonder if one causes the other.

There isn’t any evidence that suggests screen time directly causes dry eyes. However, spending prolonged time staring at screens can certainly lead to dry, tired eyes. This article explores what dry eye disease and digital eye strain are, and how screen time could lead to dry eyes.

What Is Dry Eye Disease?

To understand how screen time could result in dry eyes, first let’s look at what dry eye disease is. This disease is often referred to as simply dry eye; as the name implies, it results from abnormally dry eyes.

There are two major subtypes of dry eye: aqueous deficiency (inadequate tear production) and evaporative (premature evaporation of tears). 

When you’re dealing with inadequate tear production, the tear glands don’t produce enough tears to provide the proper lubrication. On the other hand, evaporative dry eye isn’t necessarily an issue with the amount of tears. The issue revolves around their quality, specifically a lack of oil in the film to keep it from evaporating.

A man sitting on a leather sofa with his laptop on his lap is covering his stressed eye with his left hand after a hours on the screen.


There are various risk factors and causes for each type of dry eye, including:

  • Age
  • Cornea nerve de-sensitivity from contact lenses or damage from surgery or trauma
  • Certain medical conditions, like Sjogren’s syndrome, some autoimmune disorders, vitamin A deficiency, or thyroid disorders
  • Posterior blepharitis or meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD)
  • Not blinking enough or completely
  • Allergies
  • Some allergy medication, along with blood pressure medication, antidepressant medication,  hormone replacement therapy, or birth control
  • Wind, smoke, or dry air 

Can Screen Time Cause Dry Eyes?

Screen time by itself likely won’t cause your dry eyes. But if you’ve ever spent a long time on the computer or watching a good movie, you can probably figure out how it can.

Not blinking often enough—like when spending extended lengths of time on the computer—is a significant cause of evaporative dry eye. Decreased blink rate could be from a medical condition like Parkinson’s disease as well.

The tear film over our eyes doesn’t get refreshed when we don’t blink enough or don’t blink fully, leading to an imbalance of water and oil, which can lead to dry eyes.


Fortunately, there are many treatment options available for dry eyes. You’ll notice that we’ve broken them into at-home or in-office treatments below. Even with an at-home treatment, it’s important to consult with your eye doctor to ensure the treatment is right for you.

At-Home Treatments

  • Over-the-counter lubricating eye drops
  • Warm compress and lid massages
  • Setting up cues to remind yourself to blink fully when doing focused work
  • Thorough eyelid cleaning
  • Humidifier
  • Staying hydrated
  • Including lots of fatty acids in your diet

In-Office Treatments

Digital Eye Strain

Dry eyes aren’t the only consideration when talking about excessive screen time. Digital eye strain, or computer vision syndrome, is also a potential result of staring at a screen without adequate breaks.

Digital eye strain isn’t typically a vision-threatening condition, and symptoms may subside when resting your eyes and taking breaks throughout the day. It’s a good idea to see the eye doctor if the symptoms of digital eye strain persist.


If you’re experiencing digital eye strain, you may find the following symptoms could come in a range of severities:

  • Watery or dry eyes
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Sore, irritated, burning eyes
  • Headache
  • Light sensitivity
  • Sore neck, shoulders, or back
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling a need to close your eyes

Treatment & Prevention Tips

There isn’t really a single way to prevent or treat digital eye strain. You have to figure out what you’re doing that’s causing the symptoms. But here are several tips for treating or preventing eye strain:

  • Place your computer monitor approximately arm’s length from your eyes.
  • Set the screen around 20 degrees below eye level. This keeps you from having to keep your eyes wide open all the time.
  • Practice the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, focus on an object 20 feet away from you for at least 20 seconds.
  • Take short breaks from all screens several times a day.
  • Minimize glare on screens with screen placement, lighting, or color settings
  • Be mindful of blinking regularly while staring at a screen

Don’t Keep Suffering With Dry Eyes

You shouldn’t have to live with irritated, dry eyes, no matter the cause. If you’re wondering what options you have, our team at Vector Eye Centre is happy to review a dry eye treatment plan with you.  We also offer all of the thermal lid treatments.

Talk to us today and request an appointment. One of our friendly and knowledgeable dry eye experts is happy to sit down and discuss your concerns and see how we can help you get the comfortable eyes you deserve.

Written by Dr. Jamie Bhamra

Dr. Jamie Bhamra is an ophthalmologist with advanced training in cataract and corneal surgery, including refractive surgery, corneal cross-linking, external disease, ocular surface disease, and dry eye disease. He practices comprehensive ophthalmology in Calgary, Alberta.
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