| Dr. Corey
closeup of eyes

Is gaming bad for your eyes?

One of the most common questions we get: “is gaming bad for your eyes?” The answer to this question is not a simple yes or no answer. However, there’s some great news: from the current research on this topic, computer screens and monitors do not appear to have a long-term, negative affect on vision!

However, that’s not to say gaming is not affecting your eyes. Below, we’ll describe exactly how screen time affects your eyes and what you can do to prevent issues in the future!

Screen time and vision

Research on the topic of digital screens and vision indicates that prolonged PC or monitor screen time does not affect the retina or its photoreceptor cells viability.

So, what exactly does that mean? First, we need to understand some lesser-known definitions:

  • Retina: a layer at the back of the eyeball containing cells that are sensitive to light.
  • Photoreceptors: the cells within the retina that respond to light; these cells are called cones and rods, and they are responsible for absorbing light for your brain to interpret as your sense of vision.
  • Candela per square meter (cd/m^2): the standard unit of luminance; in other words, a unit to measure brightness.
  • Nit: another word for candela per square meter; 1 Nit = 1 cd/m^2

The average PC screen or TV monitor will be approximately 500 to 1,000 nits, or cd/m^2. In terms of relative brightness, the sun will project between 11,000 and 32,000 nits during the day. Truly, the average screen is not terribly bright.

Research evidence states that the luminance from PC screens and TV monitors does not cause damage to the retina or its photoreceptor cells. Therefore, the light emitted from a screen is not going to harm your actual vision.

In one study example, the researchers used a halogen lamp to expose retinal cells to blue light and red light, separately. This lamp projected greater-than 2,000 nits for a period of 48-hours, and there was no significant affect on cell viability with either wavelength of light.

Two-thousand nits is [more than] twice the amount of luminance emitted from the average screen, and 48-hours of direct exposure is drastically longer than a normal gaming session.

Is gaming bad for your eyes?

You should still take care of yourself!

At this time, there is currently a lack of evidence to support the notion that prolonged screen time will negatively affect vision. However, a lack of current evidence is not definitive proof.

It is still recommended to include breaks during your gaming sessions. Every 30-60 minutes, take a 5-minute break. Stand up, move around, and look somewhere away from the screen. Allow your eyes to adjust to ambient light to help reduce any potential risks of prolonged screen time.

Screen time and eye strain

There is more research on the topic of eye strain, also called asthenopia. This condition will present with non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, pain in or around the eyes, blurred vision, headache, and occasional double vision.

Eye strain is exactly what it sounds like. After staring at your screen for hours on end, the muscles in your eyes become strained, and this is why the above-listed symptoms occur.

The muscles of your eyes

There are muscles inside your eyes (intraocular) and outside your eyes (extraocular). The intraocular muscles control the pupil and lens and the extraocular muscles control the movement of your eyeballs.

Ciliary muscles (intraocular)

The ciliary muscles are involved in the contraction & relaxation of the lens to allow focus on near or far objects.

To focus on an object closer to you, the ciliary muscles contract and the lens becomes more rounded. To focus on an object further away from you, the ciliary muscles are relaxed the lens becomes flatter.

While gaming, the focal distance does not change. If your screen is approximately 24-inches from your face (a reasonable distance, according to the gamer posture guidelines), your focal distance remains 24-inches for the duration of time looking at the screen.

Therefore, your ciliary muscles will be contracted for as many hours as you’re gaming, which leads to ciliary muscle strain.

When these muscles are strained, it becomes difficult to change focus between near and far objects, and your vision may become blurred. In particular, you may develop accommodative infacility, which is a difficulty focusing on near objects.

ciliary muscles

Iris muscles (intraocular)

The radial muscles of the iris will cause dilation or widening of the pupil, and the circular (sphincter) muscles of the iris will cause constriction of the pupil.

These muscles will work to change the amount of light that enters the eye. When there is insufficient or dim lighting, the pupils will dilate, and when there is bright light, the pupils will constrict.

While gaming, the lighting on the screen will change, and so the radial muscles and circular muscles will both be active. The strain to these muscles will therefore be less intense.

Extraocular muscles

There are six muscles that attach to the eyeballs to create movement. Simply, one muscle each will allow you to look up, down, left, or right.

Then, there are two other muscles that create the movement of torsion, or rotation in the eye socket. These muscles are active when you tilt your head slightly left or right so your eyes stay level with the ground.

Because PC screens and TV monitors are frequently 24-inches or less, your eyes are not required to move in their full range. Instead, your eyes will move rapidly in very short distances while gaming. These short, rapid contractions over many hours lead to muscle strain.

When these muscles are strained, you may experience headaches. You may also experience accommodative infacility, as with ciliary muscle strain, where it becomes difficult to focus on near objects.

Blinking and dry eyes

Blinking provides hydration to the eyes using moisture from tears and mucous secretions. In a normal, resting state, the average number of blinks per minute is 15-20.

However, while gaming, this number may be less than half. During the hypervigilance of intense gameplay, you may only blink 5-10 times, leaving your eyes at risk for becoming excessively dry.

Having dry eyes is more than just lack of moisture on the surface of your eyeball. Symptoms may include:

  • Stinging or burning
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Redness of the sclera
  • Straining nighttime vision
  • Blurred vision
near to far exercise for eyes

Preventing these issues

The issues of eye strain and dry eyes are fairly simple to avoid. In short, take breaks!

While gaming…

  • Every 5-10 minutes
    • Blink! Blink your eyes and hold them shut for 3 seconds, 5 times
    • Do this every 5-10 minutes or after each game/match you play
  • Every 20-30 minutes
    • Take a 5-minute break to look away from your screen
    • Since the ciliary muscles relax during far focus, you’ll want to look at something far away
    • If you’re able to, look outside; if not, look as far as you can within your home.
  • Every 30-60 minutes
    • Perform smooth pursuit OR target gaze (listed below) to help reduce the strain on the extraocular muscles

Lastly, don’t forget the power of a good night’s sleep. If you’re constantly grinding to become the best, you will most certainly experience eye strain, and sleep is your best tool for recovery to continue gaming tomorrow.

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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Esports Healthcare disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

The information contained on this website does not establish, nor does it imply, doctor-patient relationship. Esports Healthcare does not offer this information for diagnostic purposes. A diagnosis must not be assumed based on the information provided.

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