• Digital device usage is soaring, impacting eye health. But most consumers have never heard of digital eye strain, says a new study1.
  • More than 30 percent of consumers reported visual fatigue, headaches, dry eye and blurred vision after two hours of digital device usage1.

While digital device usage is soaring, global awareness of digital eye strain is low, according to a new international survey carried out by Novartis among 6,000 people.

Novartis South Africa has highlighted the impact of prolonged use of digital devices on the eyes of device users.

Nicola Lister, Chief Scientific Officer and Medical Director at Novartis South Africa, says South Africans, like their counterparts around the world, are spending an increasing amount of time using digital devices including laptops, tablets and phones. However, many are not aware that they risk digital eye strain – a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use2.

“It is important to note that prolonged screen time can increase eye discomfort, causing dry or irritated eyes and eye fatigue3,” says Lister. Other symptoms of digital eye strain can include red eyes, blurred vision and back and neck pain and headaches4. The level of discomfort appears to increase with the amount of digital screen use2.

Studies have shown that extended usage of digital devices may cause changes in blinking patterns, leading to a higher prevalence of dry eye. Blink rates while viewing digital screens for long periods at a time decrease by about 40 to 60 percent. A normal blink rate is considered to be 10 to 16 blinks per minute, however during device usage, blinks decrease to five to nine blinks per minute5.

To identify the knowledge gaps between what consumers know about prolonged digital device use and the impact it can have on eye health and long-term vision, Novartis partnered with Dr. Esen Akpek, Professor of Ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Institute for the Future, a U.S. based think tank, to conduct a global consumer survey on eye strain caused by the use of digital devices.

In the survey, consumers reported experiencing symptoms such as dry, irritated eyes, blurred vision, eye fatigue, and headaches after spending as little as two hours staring at one or more devices1. Despite these facts, the new global survey reveals that a majority of respondents (64 percent) surveyed are unfamiliar with eye strain symptoms caused by digital screens and are not concerned about the effects of prolonged device usage1.

Locally, research has found that people may not even be aware that they are suffering from signs of dry eye. A study among black and Indian university students aged 18 – 30 in KwaZulu-Natal found, for example, that 81 percent of the subjects had clinical signs of dry eye, although only 41 percent reported symptoms of it11. The study noted that the students were likely more predisposed than average to dry eye  risk factors such as working in air-conditioned environments and undertaking long-duration, close-up tasks.

“With the rising usage of digital devices at home and in the workplace, there is a growing need to create awareness of the long-term effects that increased usage of digital devices have on the eyes,” says Lister. “As a trusted leader in eye care, we provide innovative treatments for eye diseases to address the evolving needs of patients worldwide.”

There are treatment options available to help reduce symptoms 6, such as the SYSTANE® Family of Products which have been clinically proven to reduce the symptoms of dry eye 7-10.

Key findings from the survey include1:

  • 51 percent of global consumers say their digital device usage has increased from the previous year, with 32 percent expecting their usage to increase next year.
  • Headaches were the most common reported symptom, with more than half (55 percent) of users reporting this after extended device usage.
  • 64 percent of global consumers are required to use digital devices for four or more hours per day, yet 43 percent of employees say productivity declines after more than four hours of work in front of a screen.
  • The majority of consumers (74 percent) say their employers do not offer any kind of education to minimize digital eye strain. However, 78 percent say they would participate in digital eye strain training if offered by their employers.
  • “Super-Users” spend the most time on digital devices, more than 23 combined hours across all devices per day (based on the combined responses of individuals on how much time is spent on each digital device; smartphone, tablet, television, etc.) and make up 10 percent of the population on average in surveyed countries. The percentage of Super-Users is higher in the U.S. (14%) than any other country.


  1. Novartis Digital Eye Strain Survey Report
  2. American Optometric Association. Computer Vision Syndrome http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for- your-vision/protecting-your-vision/computer-vision-syndrome?sso=y
  3. Essilor. https://essilorusa.com/content/essilor-usa/en/newsroom/news/is_too_much_techtim.html
  4. Gunnar. https://gunnar.com/what-is-digital-eye-strain/
  5. Blink Animation Software to Improve Blinking and Dry Eye Symptoms
  6. All About Vision. http://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/dryeye.htm
  7. Ketelson H, et al. ARVO Annual Meeting 2014;3695/A0209 8
  8. Goa KL, et al. Drugs 1994;47:536–66
  9. Ubels JL, et al. Cur Eye Res 2004;28:437–44
  10. Wojtowicz JC, et al. Cornea 2011;30:308–14
  11. Bryce Castelyn, Sdudizwe Majola, Rachel Motilal, Maxine T. Naidu, Siyabonga A. Ndebele, Tasnim A. Vally, Naimah E. Khan 2014:   Prevalence of dry eye amongst black and Indian university students aged 18–30 years

About Digital Eye Strain Survey

The Digital Eye Strain Survey was administered online from February 15-March 9, 2016, collecting a total of 6,000 interviews with general consumers age 18 or older from the following countries: United States, Australia, Brazil, China, Poland and United Kingdom. The goal of the study was to better understand digital device usage behaviors among adults globally and general awareness of digital eye strain, in order to properly educate consumers. The margin of error for global results is plus or minus 1.27 percent (plus or minus 3.1 percent for the individual country studies) at the 95% percent confidence level.1

About Dr. Esen Akpek

Dr. Esen Akpek is a Professor of Ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the Director of the Ocular Surface Disease and Dry Eye Clinic. Dr. Akpek’s participation in this research study was as a paid consultant for Novartis. All opinions expressed and implied in this research study are solely those of Dr. Akpek and do not represent or reflect the views of the Johns Hopkins University or the Johns Hopkins Health System.

About Institute for the Future (IFTF)

IFTF is an independent, non-profit research organization with a more than 45-year track record of helping all kinds of organizations make the futures they want. IFTF’s core research staff and creative design studio work together to provide practical foresight for a world undergoing rapid change. The network extends to include affiliates, bringing a diversity of perspectives and experiences to research and events. From university professors to independent thought leaders and hands-on innovators, they help IFTF work at the forefront of new ideas and practices worldwide.

About Novartis

Novartis provides innovative healthcare solutions that address the evolving needs of patients and societies. Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Novartis offers a diversified portfolio to best meet these needs: innovative medicines, cost-saving generic and biosimilar pharmaceuticals and eye care. Novartis has leading positions globally in each of these areas. In 2016, the Group achieved net sales of USD 48.5 billion, while R&D throughout the Group amounted to approximately USD 9.0 billion. Novartis Group companies employ approximately 119,000 full-time-equivalent associates. Novartis products are sold in approximately 155 countries around the world. For more information, please visit http://www.novartis.com.


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