The Eyes Have It For E-readers

There’s nothing like getting lost in a good book, whether you prefer “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Steve Jobs” or “Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site.” We each have our own tastes when it comes to what we think is a good page-turner.

However, choosing books is now just one part of the process, because it’s a question not only of fiction or non-fiction and author or genre, but also of how we are going to enjoy our favorites.

There are dozens and dozens of electronic readers, such as the Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook and the Apple iPad, and they have bec-ome popular alternatives for reading enthusiasts.

Many people think it’s a no-brainer to carry an e-reader rather than books, because books are bulkier and heavier. With more than two million e-books available to download at the click of a button, e-readers are also easy to update. In fact, one in 10 Americans says that he or she currently uses some kind of e-reader.

Of course, as with any change, there is uncertainty. One of the questions I get most often is, “Do e-readers cause eye strain?”

For the most part, they do not. Let’s put things into perspective. Even when you are reading the print edition of a book, your eyes may feel fatigued, so it’s nice to take a bit of a break: Get up, stretch, look around, refocus and then go back to your book.

The same thing holds true with an electronic reader. If you’re staring at an e-reader for a long time, you might feel that same sense of tired or strained eyes that you would with the printed word. Simply follow your instincts to stretch, look away and check out something in the distance to allow your focusing muscles to recalibrate; then start again.

Eye strain can cause your eyes to be sore and feel tired and make your vision blurry. However, the symptoms are not permanent, and once you rest your eyes, the symptoms will disappear. If they don’t, however, and are accompanied by headaches and double vision, you should check with your doctor; they could indicate something else is wrong.

As someone who uses e-readers, I think they’re terrific devices. If you are like me and are a bit nearsighted, they can be very helpful. I have to wear reading glasses for regular books, but I never have to wear them when I use my e-readers because I can enlarge the text as much as I want.

In addition, it’s not your imagination if you notice differences among e-readers. LCD screens can be more difficult to read in bright sunlight, and in those instances I use a Kindle, which uses electronic ink, as opposed to an LCD screen, to cut down on the glare.

For the vast majority of people, e-readers are a good thing because they make reading accessible, and I don’t think you need to worry about additional eye strain.

Whether you select paper or electronics, I hope that you enjoy this latest chapter in technology.

Dr. Donald Abrams is chief of the Department of Ophthalmology at the LifeBridge Health Krieger Eye Institute.


  1. ShoshanaOT says

    Eye strain is one of the fastest growing conditions in children and adults in schools and work environments. E-readers, although a wonderful way to “carry” a load of books instead of “back breaking” loads of textbooks and notebooks, they are not without problems to those who are prone to visual stress and sensory overload. Keep the type set large and clear enough to see easily will decrease some of the strain, esp in those who experience visual distortions and blurriness as they read which glasses cannot remedy. Also changing the background color to decrease the glare and strain of visual contrast from the white background, to one that is most comfortable, can decrease strain and increase clarity, visual tracking, sustaining attention, accuracy of reading words and numbers (and even music score). An simple colored overlay may also relax the eyes to increase reading levels in children with dyslexia and who are working too hard for that “A”. For more information see Wikkipedia on Irlen-Meares Syndrome and Irlen Method. I have personally helped people with one session and immediately who experience eye strain and visual processing problems while reading , including with an e-reader an iphone- which then contributes to chronic migraines, dyslexia, and ADD/ADHD with some of the symptoms of those conditions . Something as simple as obtaining the most accurate “color” background or spectral tints can increase function and performance.

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