The 20-20-20 Rule and Eye Strain

Published: January 5, 2022

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People who look at screens a lot of the day – whether a computer, smartphone, TV, won’t “ruin their eyes,” – but they can develop eye strain that is uncomfortable, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. This kind of eye strain affects children and adults alike. Eyes can become dry, tear or sting, and vision may blur.(1)
It seems unlikely that people will cut back on their use of digital devices, the academy acknowledges. That being said, there are methods to reduce eye strain. The first is simple – blink! Normally, we blink approximately 15 times in one minute, but studies indicate that we only blink between five to seven times a minute when using a digital device. Making a conscious effort to blink is helpful, as it keeps the surface of the eye moist.(1)
Taking regular breaks is useful. The 20-20-20 rule suggests taking a break every 20 minutes, to shift and look at something about 20 feet away, for 20 seconds. The precise distance is not important, experts say. “Consider looking out a window at an object that seems far away, like a tree or a building across the street. If you work in a small space, try walking outdoors or into a larger area where you can rest your eyes.”(2) Drinking a glass of water during breaks can be helpful as well, since being dehydrated affects eye health. Drinking adequate water helps keep eyes moist and comfortable.(3)
Here are additional tips from the American Academy of Ophthalmology:

  • Use artificial tears to refresh your eyes when they feel dry. If you are often in a dry, warm room, consider using a humidifier.
  • Consider “computer glasses,” prescription glasses that allow you to focus eyes specifically at computer screen distance, about 20-26 inches away from your face.
  • Adjust brightness and contrast. If the screen is brighter than your surroundings, the eyes have to work harder to see. Try increasing the contrast on the screen to reduce eye strain.
  • Reduce glare. Try using a matte screen filter to cut down on glare, which can add to eye strain.

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(1) Boyd, K., Huffman, J. MD (reviewer), Computers, Digital Devices and Eye Strain, American Academy of Ophthalmology, https://www.aao.org/eye-health/

(2) Marcin, A., Legg, T. PhD (reviewer) healthline, How Does the 20-20-20 Rule Prevent Eye Strain, https://www.healthline.com/health/

(3) Baxter, N. All About Vision, Checklist for Better Vision and Eye Health, https://www.allaboutvision.com/checklist/