The Ideal Distance for TV Viewing

How Close Is Too Close When You're Watching TV?

Woman watching TV
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It may be surprising to some, but sitting too close to the TV is not bad for your eyes. Years ago, the medical community warned television consumers about the dangers of x-radiation from TV sets. While the concern was legitimate, the danger is not an issue today because of the inventions of LCD and plasma televisions. These modern flat panel screens do not emit radiation.

However, many people still worry that they may injure their eyes by sitting too close to the TV.

While sitting close to the television will not cause injury to your eyes or vision, close viewing may cause temporary eye strain or eye fatigue.

So how close is too close? What is the ideal distance for watching television? The answer may be surprising to some, but there really is no magic formula for calculating the precise distance.

Ideal TV Viewing Distance and Position

Eye care professionals recommend sitting approximately eight to ten feet away from the TV screen. The general rule of thumb is to be at least 5 times the distance from the screen as the screen is wide. For example, if your television is 32 inches wide, the optimal viewing distance is 160 inches, or about 13 feet.

However, most optometrists and ophthalmologists agree that the best distance for television viewing is the distance that feels most comfortable for you. As long as you can see the screen clearly without experiencing discomfort, the distance is probably correct.

Besides viewing distance, the position of your television in relation to where you are sitting is also important for preventing eye strain. Whether you hang your TV on the wall or set it on a tabletop, try to position it at eye level or lower to prevent straining your vertical eye muscles or your neck.

Constantly forcing your eyes to look up will eventually cause the eye muscles to fatigue.

Why Do Screens Cause Eye Strain?

Eye strain, or asthenopia, is an eye condition that causes a variety of symptoms including fatigue, pain in or around the eyes, blurred vision, headache, and occasional double vision. Symptoms can occur after watching television at a close distance, reading, doing computer work, or performing any close activities that use the eyes. Attempting to focus on a close object for an extended period of time causes the ciliary muscle to tighten, producing the symptoms of eye strain. Syptoms include:

  • Sore, irritated eyes
  • Trouble focusing
  • Dry or watery eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Increased light sensitivity 
  • Pain in the neck, shoulders or back

Eye strain can also occur because people tend to blink less while watching television or working on tedious projects. The average person blinks around 18 times a minute, naturally refreshing and lubricating the eye. But some studies have shown that people may only blink half as often while looking at a television or computer screen. Blinking so seldom often results in dry, tired, itchy, and burning eyes.

Besides sitting too close, watching too much television can also cause eye strain due to constant focusing on a small, bright object in a dark room.

The dark room causes the irises of the eyes to open wider in order to let in more light, but they fail to close as much as they should to focus on the bright screen.

Preventing Eye Strain

Eye doctors recommend a simple technique for preventing eye strain. If you are staring at a screen for an extended amount of time, shift your focus from near to far on a regular basis. Shift focus from up close to at least 20 feet away, for example.

How to Relieve Eye Strain

If you experience the symptoms of eye strain after watching television or looking at your smart device, here are a few things you can do to help alleviate your discomfort.

  • Gently massage the eyes 
  • Apply a warm cloth to the eye area
  • Get enough sleep at night to allow your eyes time to recuperate 
  • Invest in a bigger television to reduce eye strain from focusing
  • Don’t forget to blink to prevent your eyes from drying out

Dry Eye Syndrome

Besides eye strain, a common eye condition resulting from television or computer screen viewing is dry eye syndrome. With this condition, a person doesn't have enough quality tears to lubricate and nourish the eye.

Tears are necessary for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye and for providing clear vision. Staring at a screen for long periods of time can dry out the eyes. Dry eye syndrome is treated by frequently instilling quality eye drops.

Rules for Other Devices

It seems that many kids today tend to watch their iPads and smartphones more than they watch television. Should parents monitor how close their kids hold their screens away from their eyes?

Most eye care professionals agree that tablets, phones, and laptops are harmless to eye health and vision. However, these devices can cause eye strain, much like watching a television. Symptoms can develop due to focusing on a much smaller screen at a very close distance to your eyes.

Make sure that your child holds his screen about arm’s length away from his eyes. He should view the screen at the level of his eyes or slightly below them. Handheld digital devices such as smartphones should be held below eye level.

If your child seems to have difficulty holding his devices at this distance, he might try enlarging the text on the screen. Adjusting text size can sometimes make viewing more comfortable. Also, to help prevent eye strain from occurring, encourage your kids to take frequent breaks from the screen to give their eyes a rest from focusing.

A Word From Verywell

If you tend to experience eye strain or eye fatigue frequently, consider asking your eye doctor for advice. Your eye doctor will conduct a comprehensive eye examination to identify possible underlying causes of eye strain and offer ways to alleviate it.

Source:

EyeSmart, "Computers, Digital Devices and Eye Strain." American Academy of Ophthalmology, 1 Mar 2016.

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