Having issues with zoom fatigue and digital eye strain – don’t forget the 20-20-20 rule!

You will recall that last year I wrote how the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a marked increase in the use of digital devices with the result that there has been a dramatic upsurge in the number of people experiencing symptoms of digital eye strain (DES), such that the term ‘zoom fatigue’ has been coined to describe this phenomenon.  DES is characterized by visual disturbance and/or ocular discomfort related to the use of digital devices such as smartphones, iPads, computers and laptops.  Ocular symptoms of digital eye strain include tearing, tired eyes, blurred vision, general fatigue, burning sensation, redness and double vision.  Non-ocular symptoms include stiff neck, general fatigue, headache and backache.


In the same blog, I mentioned how prevention is the main strategy for the management of DES.  In this regard, the ’20-20-20 rule’ has recently been recommended by several studies as an effective way to manage DES.  Eye care practitioners recommend that people should take a 20 second break from near work every 20 minutes by looking at a target at 20 feet (hence the 20-20-20 rule).  Note that this rule originated in the USA, hence the use of ‘feet’ rather than ‘metres’ in the same way that in Australia we talk about 6/6 being normal visual acuity, while in the USA they use the term 20/20.


Taking frequent breaks can prevent and relieve the symptoms associated with DES.  A recent study investigated the effect of applying the 20-20-20 rule in reducing the symptoms of DES.  The authors recruited two groups, a control group and an intervention group, where a computer application was installed on participants’ computers to notify and calculate computer breaks.  The results showed a significant decrease in symptoms associated with DES in the intervention group that practiced several scheduled breaks compared to the control group.


As always, it is also highly recommended that anyone who is suffering from DES should have a comprehensive eye examination so any underlying eye problems that may be causing – or contributing to – the digital eye strain can be detected and treated appropriately.