Why Your Eyes Hurt Using a New iPhone, iPad Or iMac

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The Apple LED screen is a common source of complaint among consumers. Many new iPhone, iPad, and Mac users have reported that it causes eyestrain and general discomfort, yet if you look around on the Internet, you can’t find much backing for the problem. Apple itself hasn’t offered a solution, and some people think that it’s even some kind of conspiracy. Personally, I think that the Cupertino-based company has better things to do than blind the eyes of the world, but then again, I’m not an evil dictatorial genius.

The screens themselves have been around for a while, but after all that time, there still isn’t an explanation for their eye-trouble-inducing capabilities. I’ve done my research, and I found common concerns about the screens as well as some homegrown remedies. In the meantime, I suppose we’ll just have to work with what we know, and that’s not much.

What Are Some Complaints About The New LED Screens?

These days, the most common displays used for electronic devices are LED screens and LCD screens. LED displays implement light-emitting diodes as backlights, offering bright pictures, vivid colors, and low energy usage. On the other hand, LCD displays make use of liquid crystals laid over flat fluorescent lights that aren’t as bright, colorful, or energy efficient. It’s clear as to which one is superior, but at what cost?

In 2009, Apple started pushing out the LED screens for their hardware, bringing about statements from some users that their eyes hurt from using them. This has been a common annoyance, and finding sound evidence for these users’ reports is a bit tough. I will say that there has been definitely enough of a stir that I was swayed to believe them. Reasonable people don’t usually whine unless something is actually wrong. Here’s a list of most symptoms:

  • Burning eyes
  • Sore eyes
  • Tired eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headache

How Can The LED Screens Hurt Your Eyes?

I can’t provide a valid reason as to why the LEDs are a cause of eyestrain. Unfortunately, my only sources include the personal accounts of people who simply claim that the LEDs hurt more than the LCDs. It’s my opinion that it’s different for different people, and as with any case of a technology usage shift, humans have to make adjustments. On that wavelength, I’ve found a few possible reasons as to why they hurt, but they are by no means well-founded.

It’s Too Bright

Common sense will tell you that bright lights hurt your eyes, and with an LED screen that is brighter and more vivid than old LCDs, it’s expected. Try adjusting your screen to be a bit dimmer than normal, and see if this alleviates anything. Additionally, try letting your device automatically set the levels for a while. See what’s best for you.

It’s Too Dark

I found a bit of information on LED televisions that is about the screen’s refresh rate. We won’t get into numbers, but the way that LED displays are dimmed is by applying pulse-width modulation to the supply current. This turns the backlight off and on faster than you can see, and much like old CRT monitors, this flickering can put strain on your eyes. If the frequency is too low or if you are already sensitive to the flickering, your eyes will more than likely hurt.

An easy test to see if the frequency is too low is by waving your hand in front of the screen. If your hand has clearly-formed edges, then it’s too low. However, if it is blurred, you should be fine.

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You Aren’t Blinking Enough

Lastly, there’s the possibility that you just aren’t blinking enough. Some people say it doesn’t help, but by taking a break every 20-30 minutes to look out a window or just away from the screen for a few seconds, you could find some relief. We use screens a lot these days, and sometimes we forget that our eyes weren’t designed to stare at electronic devices for hours at a time. Speaking of which, our body wasn’t designed for a lot of technological adaptations – that includes sitting down.

The Verdict

Let me be blunt – I do think there is a problem. People wouldn’t go around saying that their eyes were hurting if there wasn’t one, would they? Whether it be the placebo effect, intensified eyestrain, or long-lasting damage, I believe that this is something that should be looked into by Apple. However, I can’t put a finger on what exactly the problem is.

Do the new Apple LED screens hurt your eyes? How do they compare to the old LCDs?

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Comments (40)
  • Dungrakoti

    Yes I agree. It will be greatest leap in display technology if these companies can develop a non light source based screen as is there in Amazon Kindle with colour. May be it will be less beautiful to look at but will give ua a great choice to opt for it and save our eyes. I am hopeful that will come.

  • sdsa

    Boys, it is all about poor electronics. Low Pulse Width Modulation. And LEDs inself. There are studies that states LEDs led ;) to AMD – irreversible damage to the retina etc.

    Human eyes are not degined to look at the source of light whole day. Also brains.

  • Peter

    I bought a MacBook Pro about a month ago and am still struggling to get used to it. It is crisp and beautiful, but there is something about it that is just very difficult to focus on. And it’s making not only my eyes hurt, but my head, neck, and even teeth too. I’ve tried at least 25 different interventions, including all the most common ones you read about, and no luck. Two things are really strange about this. 1) I’ve used an iPad and iPhone extensively for years with no problem, and 2) the MacBook hurts my eyes when plugged into my old LED monitor that I always used with Windows. I took the day yesterday and went back to my Windows laptop (plugged into that monitor) and my eyes were the best they’ve been in a month. The Mac hurts them. Right now I’m waiting for an email back from Amulet Hotkey, who I heard had written a patch to disable temporal dithering on OSX. Failing that, I will try hooking it up to the monitor via VGA to see if that washes the problem away. But it could just be the way the Mac antialiases type. Whatever the cause, I’m bummed out and may end up selling this MacBook if I can’t adjust to it.

    • Jason Goldovitz

      Peter, I'm working with a couple people on – very early stages – a KEXT injector that does the same thing that Amulet's patch does. Basically, Amulet just injects a very specific set of parameters into the IOREG to disable temporal dithering. The fact that they won't release it unless you own their product is probably down to some disagreement with Apple (unless the Amulet people are just jerks, but I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt). I'm going to write my own KEXT, even if it kills me, and use it to develop an open-source injector to disable dithering on any Mac. Until Apple gives us the ability to disable this via the OS, it's the only way I can get any relief. Ironically, modern game systems (PS4, Xbox One) also do this, with the same Radeon chipset as many Macs. It's just frustrating as hell!

    • Peter

      I’ll reply here so others can benefit from the response. Amulet was no help… their extension was very specific to whatever their application was, and they weren’t willing to release it to me.

      So an update on my personal story… I did try a VGA connection, which did not help. About a week or so after I wrote that last post, I with great sadness decided to stop using the MacBook and switch back to my Windows computer. I eventually sold the Mac. But the eyestrain persisted, even back on my old computer. I started having problems tracking fast-moving objects, some dizziness, and a lag in focusing at far after having focused at near for a while. I’ve spent the past 3 months visiting doctors, verifying that there is nothing wrong with my eyesight, my brain, etc. One optometrist measured some vertical heterophoria in my eyes (one eye wanting to point slightly up, one slightly down) and prescribed some prism glasses to fix it, but they didn’t help, and when she measured me again three weeks later, the vertical heterophoria had disappeared. My eyes have gotten somewhat better (no more dizziness or tracking problems), to the point where I can bear some computer work, but there’s still something not quite normal about them, and if I overdo it I still get headaches or a feeling like I have to crinkle my nose in response to some muscular tension in my eyes. I’m afraid I tweaked them somehow… that maybe I got a spasm of accommodation or convergence going, and that they may never go back to normal. Needless to say, I’ve sunken into a deep depression with severe anxiety, and I’ve gone on an SSRI, an anxiolytic, and am receiving weekly counseling. I also temporarily moved in with a caring friend and her family so I don’t have to be alone so much. Right now, everything seems dark. The optometrist and my counselor both think there is at least a chance that the eye problem has an emotional component, but I haven’t made any progress in finding out what that might be. The optometrist also said it might be chiropractic, or maybe even a reaction to a TDAP (tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis) shot I got a couple weeks before I got the MacBook. I have no answers.

    • Simon

      Hi Peter, I’m wondering if you ever heard back from Amulet about the temporal dithering kernel extension? I’m trying to solve my long-standing issue with eyestrain and migraines on my Macbook…did you have any joy? Please email on si_edgey[@]yahoo.com if you can help out. Many thanks.

  • rn10950

    I find this weird because when I use the Macs (post 2010) at school, my eyes start burning in 20 minutes, but I can stare at my LED monitor hooked up to my PC for hours

  • Anonymous

    For some reason the iPad bothers my eyes but other apple products don’t, like iMac. Is there any solution to this other than simple ones like contrast or will it just go away?

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.