Among the population of all computer users, digital eye strain (also known as computer vision syndrome) is already common – a 2018 analysis in the British Medical Journal estimated its general prevalence at 50%. But as the above study and other investigations have revealed, rates may be even higher among college students.
In 2019, the Athens, Ohio-based paper The Post polled 50 Ohio University students and found that they spent a mean of 4 hours and 25 minutes per day just on their phones. That was almost an hour longer than the U.S. national reported in an eMarketer survey the year before, and a key indicator of how easily eye strain can affect college students.
Not only are students more likely than other populations to look at screens throughout the day, but they also may struggle to get sufficient sleep and manage the stress of their workloads, which can contribute to eye strain, too. Fortunately, eye strain is manageable.
Eye strain itself is not a permanent condition, although in some cases it may indicate or contribute to a more serious underlying condition. Its common symptoms can be treated with a combination of self-directed actions and consultations with an eyecare professional as necessary. Here’s what students should look out for and what they can do in response:
Causes of Eye Strain
- Prolonged viewing of computer screens.
- Infrequent blinking.
- Light sensitivity.
- Uncorrected vision (e.g., refractive error).
- Proximity to HVAC systems blowing dry air.
- Stress and fatigue.
- Unclean contact lenses.
- Screen glare.
- Poor ergonomics and posture.
- Dry, itchy or irritated eyes, especially with contacts.
- Difficulty keeping eyes open.
- Headaches and other physical discomfort.
- Blurry or double vision.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Increased sensitivity to light.
- Inability to read smaller text.
- 20/20/20 rule: Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20+ feet away.
- Adjust screen brightness and contrast.
- Use glasses with blue light filtering.
- Sit in an ergonomic chair with good posture.
- Practice good hygiene with contact lenses.
- Consult an eye care professional.
The Elevated Risk of Eye Infections on Campuses
College and university campuses are busy environments, with a lot of people cycling in and out on a regular basis and clustering in high-density spaces. All of this activity can increase the risk of various eye infections that cause vision problems.
Commonly known as pink eye, conjunctivitis may be caused by viral or bacterial infection or allergic reaction. The viruses and bacteria that cause conjunctivitis are highly contagious, making college dormitories, cafeterias and gyms prime areas for spread.
This infection is caused by the ubiquitous herpes simplex virus. Persons already infected with HSV may see it reactivated in the eye, resulting in pain and blurred vision, among other symptoms.
Whereas conjunctivitis can often be prevented with sufficient care, herpes keratitis can be more challenging to manage:
- Avoid sharing makeup.
- Wash hands regularly with soap.
- Limit any touching of your eyes.
- Use a clean towel for your face.
- Clean contact lenses properly.
- Don’t touch your eyes if you have active cold sore blisters.
- Stop using steroid eye drops.
- Consult an ophthalmologist if the condition recurs.
Examining General Vision Impairments
Beyond the conditions caused or worsened by the environmental factors discussed above, college students are also susceptible to general corrective and non-corrective vision problems, which may require accommodations from their institutions.
Low vision, legal blindness, and total blindness fit into this category.
The American Foundation for the Blind defines low vision as visual acuity of 20/70 or worse, caused by eye disease and not capable of being corrected with regular eyeglasses, contacts, medicine, or surgery.
Legal blindness is visual acuity of 20/200 or worse in the better-seeing eye with the best possible vision correction in place.
In instances of total blindness, the person has no light perception. Such cases are relatively rare, accounting for less than one-sixth of all permanent eye disorders.
How many college students have these conditions? While there aren’t comprehensive statistics to answer that exact question, we can get a rough approximation of the scope of overall prevalence by looking at a few other numbers: