Andreas Böhrnsen

Consulting and Development

Eye Strain and Headache

For a long time I sufferend from severe eye strain and headache when sitting long hours in front of the screen. Now I found the cause. It is the LED backlighting of the screen - and it is everywhere!

Today I went to MediaMarkt (the German “BestBuy”) and I was asking for laptops without LED backlighting. Nothing. TVs with OLED and Plasma they would have and they referred me to the other department. Nothing there either, plasma screens are being phased out and OLEDs start at 6k EUR. So not really a good alternative right now.

LED backlit screens are everywhere. They are in cell phones, laptops and TVs. It is currently the main display technology out there. As my trip to the local tech chain showed, no alternative on the horizon.

Even though this technology has great benefits it is causing many people eye strain and headaches.

My personal Story

It all started around 4 years ago when I bought a new Macbook Pro. It was (and still is) a gorgeous 13inch laptop, it had everything I needed. I was using it a lot at home and also in the office. There was no problem at first but I noticed an increasing discomfort over the next months.

Around a year back I noticed that I got severe eye strain and headache when I used it. The pinnacle was when I used it a whole day programming. Afterwards I got up from my chair and got really dizzy, like I was on a boat dancing on the waves. I had to lie down and take a rest. The next day the headache was still there and I could not look at any screen at all. Even watching TV for 5 minutes made it worse.

What happened here? Did I get old? I never had these problems before.

Doing some research on the internet I found out that I was not the only person having problems with the new screens. People are mostly complaining about LED backlit LCD displays.

A webpage from Eizo shows what the main problems are:

  1. PWM Flickering
  2. Screen Brightness
  3. Blue Light Emission

It describes the problems pretty well. So go and check it out. But WAIT before you go now and buy one of their flicker free screens and read until the end.

Eizo is now one of the first to offer PWM flicker free screens. This is great and they seem to address all the mentioned issues pretty well.

So I went over to Amazon and bought one of them, hoping that all my eye strain and headache problems would be gone. Sadly that was not the case.

Yes, the screen is flicker free but my eyes were still killing me after some hours of work.

After nearly getting crazy I contacted Eizo support. They told me that some people may be sensitive to LED backlighting due to its different color spectrum.
Yeah, this difference is also shown in the color spectrum on the said Eizo website.

So I tried to find a filter that would minimize the blue light emission of the white LEDs.

There are actually special computer glasses out there like “Gunnars” for that purpose. I settled with a “clip on” from “Prisma” for a try on my own glasses with Rx.

I have to say it looks rather weird as if I would do some serious industrial work but it really helps. This was such a relief!

Even though I have a solution now the adventure and hunt for the best eye friendly display is not ever yet. Sitting in front of my flicker free LED screen without eye strain is surely good but I would like to do that without any “protection”. The filter makes everything truly yellowish and I would like to appreciate colorful photos and the like again without. Maybe the solution will be to buy a CCFL backlit screen or even an old CRT. There are actually some really good ones out there.

Conclusion

Surely LED backlit displays may have their advantages over CCFL lit displays, the complaints on the internet tell me that display development needs to be seriously improved. Being exposed to an LED light for several hours a day may be more harmful than we currently know. And people who suffer from eye strain, headache, migraine or even depression may not realize that their TV, computer, laptop, tablet or phone screen causes it.

If you want to buy a desktop screen today there are unfortunately no alternatives to LED available.
People who are affected can try to use the new flicker free screens and/or blue light filters or buy an old screen without LED backlighting from ebay or craigslist in the meantime.

Hope that OLED or other upcoming technologies will bring more comfort to the eyes. Our health is essential!

What is your experience with LED backlit displays? Do you experience any eye strain or headache?
Let me know on Twitter or in the comments.

More Resources

PWM Flickering

Computer Glasses / Blue Light Filter

General

Forum discussions / Public Voices

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