Think Backlight is Ruining Your Vision? Think Again.


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Like many attorneys, I spend at about 12 hours every day staring at a computer screen, smartphone and e-reader. I’ve been thinking about upgrading to a Kindle Fire, but I had some concerns about my eye health and I did a bit of research that yielded some surprising results.

One of the biggest selling points for companies that sell portable readers is that “e-ink creates less strain on the eyes.” But is this really true?

According to many doctors, computer eyestrain has less to do with backlight and more to do with the way you work on computers and e-readers. When you read something on a piece of paper or in a book, your eyes must move across and down the page from word to word, but when you use a computer, your phone or a tablet device, you often scroll words up to your viewpoint as your read, thus moving your eyes a lot less than you would if you were reading something on paper.  So, it’s not the backlight that hurts your eyes; it’s the fact that you aren’t moving your eyes. In the same way that your back starts to hurt after you have been sitting in one place for a long time, reading without moving your eyes can cause fatigue.

Not only do your eyes move less when you use these devices, most people forget to blink and take breaks while working in front of a screen. Blinking is a natural way to keep your eyes wet, so if you work in front of a screen, your eyes often dry up, causing blurry vision, irritation or inflammation.

So, if you are planning to buy an e-reader, your eye health doesn’t have to be at the heart of the decision between choosing e-ink or an LCD display. Instead, make your display choice according to your own aesthetic preferences and try these tips to help avoid eye fatigue when using any type of screen:

  • Take breaks, and follow the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, look away from your computer at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
  • Blink often to refresh and moisten your eyes.. Most people forget to blink when they are staring at a screen, so you might need to use a sticky note as a reminder until it becomes a habit.
  • Grab a bottle of artificial teardrops. Aim for lubricating drops without preservatives, and steer clear of eyedrops that contain a redness remover.
  • Readjust the computer screen in your law office so that your eyes look slightly down.
  • Close your eyes and gently massage your upper eyelid against your brow bone for about 10 seconds. Then, massage your lower eyelid against the lower bone for 10 seconds. According to the Mayo Clinic, this exercise can stimulate your tear glands to help prevent dry eyes, and it will help relax the muscles around your eye and reduce symptoms of eyestrain.

For more debunked eye health myths, check out this recent article by David Carnoy at RealAge.



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  • Lawrence

    I am a big fan of E-ink devices. I don’t think you can compare an LCD screen to an E-ink screen. Personally I have the original Nook and I can read it outside next to my pool in sunlight (can’t do that with an LCD) or I can read for hours straight just like a book without my eyes getting tired. I have spent entire weekends from morning to night reading a good book on my Nook with no eye strain. I can’t imagine that to be the case with an LCD screen.

  • Dovez

    Actually, the backlight causes many such symptoms as headaches, eye strain, dizziness on so on. It flickers with about 200 Hz, which latest studies say can be subconsciously perceived by us and it is.

  • Ange

    Maybe it works for some people, I have Nook ( with the backlight) and I have Kindle touch ( the original one, without the backlight ). After reading on the Nook for about an hour my eyes would tear up and burn and it makes a very hurtful experience with Kindle touch I do not have burning nor my eyes water I can read 5-6 hours at a time with no strain on my eyes. So I guess it is up to the person.

  • Peter

    I think the displays of led backlight devices on smartphones, tablets, and computers flicker due to a technique called pulse width modulation that is used to dim the display. There are many sites on the web describing this effect. I am super sensitive to this flicker and i get eye strain in 30 mins of use. But also for people not sensitive i read that backlight tires sooner than a non backlight device.

  • Aight Bitfish

    Flat out bullshit.

    I wouldn’t put much trust concerning health issues into a blog named “lawyerist”.

  • Julia

    This is not true. Maybe your ayer move a little less when reading in a kindle compared to a common book (because it has one page in the right and one in the left side) but it is not the same to read from an LCD and from e-ink.

    It’s not even comparable. E-ink, with a good resolution, is a very similar experience to reading a paper book.