Eyestrain and blurry vision when using Macs (but not Windows computers); no idea why - advice needed

Hello dear Macpoweruser community

After lurking these forums for quite some time (and having learnt a lot from your expertise – thank you so much!), my first post here unfortunately is a question that is concerning me for quite some time.

Although I love almost everything on the Mac side much more than on Windows, I experience severe eyestrain / fuzzy eyesight, drowsiness and headaches when reading / writing longer texts on my Macs. This does not happen to me on windows (or Ipad), and it’s driving me crazy.

Do any of you also experience more eyestrain when using Apple computers than when using Windows (or Android / Chromebooks / Ipads etc.)?

Some background.

I hugely prefer OSX to Windows. I’ve made the switch several years ago, and all in all, the experience has been great (I own several Macbooks, Ipads, and an Imac). My work as a teacher and researcher as well as my hobbies (reading, writing, making music) let me stare several hours a day into a computer screen.

On Windows computers or my Ipad (also Android phone), I can do that for hours nonstop without any problems. But when using Macs (16 and 12 inch Macbook, Imac Retina), I get blurry vision and severe eyestrain within minutes. Often, this is so severe that I am not able to focus anymore on the texts I have to read and write.

I tried to research this topic – the internet is full of similar user experiences, but there seems to be no conclusive answer, and many brush this off as “psychosomatic” or psychological, which it clearly is not.

I’ve tried all the advices, including:

  • Only use the properly scaled screen resolutions (as down- or upscaling introduces some blurriness)
  • Playing with all the contrast settings
  • OSX seems to fundamentally differ from Windows in the way it renders / “smoothens” fonts (antialiasing). Thus, I’ve turned antialiasing off with the terminal (there used to be a setting for that, but they removed it). I notice a small difference, but insignificant.
  • Using flux / night mode to filter blue light (does not seem to be the culprit, as the problem persists, and I do not have these eye problems with Windows machines even without blue light filters).
  • I’ve also tried foils to get a “matte screen”, but the problem persists (and I do not have it on Windows computers even with glossy screens).
  • The problems does also not seem to be related to pixel density, as even more “low resolution” screens on Windows machines are much more easily readable for me than the retina displays on Macs.
  • Strangely, reading on Ipad is much better.

The thought of going back to Windows gives me shudders, but on the other hand I do not want to risk my eyesight, and very concretely I am almost not able to write longer articles / books on my Macs.

So I tried to migrate most of my work to an Ipad pro, but this does not really work (no proper file system, lack of critical desktop applications, integrating the Ipad into the equation brings a lot of trouble and complex workflow issues – I’ve recently realized that probably half of the topics posted on this forum stem from trying to seamlessly integrate iOS devices into a Mac-centric workflow ;).

I am really rather desperate and even considered a radical “digital detox” strategy, but in reality, it is simply not a viable option to read / write / mangle data without computers and modern software.

Before “giving up” it occurred to me that such a question is probably better asked in this forum than on some other places where people are less technically literate / powerusers.

So, in case somebody has made similar experiences I would be very thankful for your thoughts (or even better: solutions :slightly_smiling_face:) – thank you very much!

  • In case you also have these eyestrain issues: how do you deal with them? Was it enough to migrate to another operating system?
  • Move to Ipad for as much as possible and just accept / live with the added complexity / inconveniences?
  • Just give up and go Windows?
  • ?

Best regards and a big “thank you”

Oxy

P.S. I hope that the above has made clear that, although I am clearly whining, I am in no way trolling or dissing Macs or anything like that – on the opposite, I genuinely would like to find a solution that allows me to further use this beloved apple ecosystem

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Welcome!

No offense taken, it just sounds like you’re trying to work out a problem. Everyone is different, and things I like would drive some people nuts, and vice-versa. I’m not an expert in ergonomics, but lots of things bug me, so I have a few thoughts.

  • Can you run Windows on one or more of your Apple computers (Bootcamp, VMware, Parallels, etc.)? That would narrow it down to something OS-specific.

  • Have you tried the settings in Accessibility? I usually reduce transparency, reduce motion, and increase contrast.

  • What applications do you use on Windows and macOS?

    • have you tried different fonts and font sizes in those applications?
  • How is the physical environment different between your Apple devices and your Windows devices?

  • Do you wear eyeglasses or contacts?

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That’s a very strange issue for sure. It would be worth updating to Big Sur as soon as possible (and if possible) to see if it could be related to the current implementation of Aqua.

I sort of have the same response, though nothing as severe as you.

It feels like my eyes work harder to bring the letters into sharp focus (because I’m more aware of the fine detail because of the better contrast) than I do on a windows computer. The windows default 150% scaled fonts are larger and seem to have less “sharpness”. Since my eyes can’t bring them into sharper focus, they don’t try as hard. (No idea if that’s what’s actually happening, but it feels that way.)

What I’ve done to manage it is to get a good pair of computer glasses made up for the distance between me and the monitor. (I measured it before I went to my optometrist.) It seems that with the Mac display tech, I’m much more sensitive to the wrong prescription in my glasses.

(And the iPad doesn’t bother me much either.)

Did you try to Scale up the resolution on your Mac?

  1. System Preferences > Display
  2. Check the “Scaled” checkbox
  3. Change the size to your liking

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I have this problem as well. I noticed it when I switched from Linux to a Mac a decade ago. It’s not quite as bad for me as what you’re describing but it’s annoying if my eyes are tired or dry. Like you I don’t notice this problem on an iPad.

Screen glare is a factor for me. I’ve had to be careful about where I place my screen and to avoid overhead lights. Turning up the screen brightness helps some but there are limits to that. Being at the correct distance from the screen for my eyes and glasses prescription is perhaps more important. The optician that I use thinks this is weird (“Most men want dedicated distance glasses instead”) but single focus computer glasses, as @wnknisely suggests, have helped me as well.

A bigger problem for me is that macOS and the default Apple apps seem so horribly fond of small fonts that can’t be adjusted. That’s part of the reason that I’ve replaced nearly all of Apple’s stock apps with more configurable alternatives. That’s helped. I agree with the advice you mentioned about not trying to scale the display. Adding blur to blur isn’t useful in my experience. I’ve had some very annoying discussions with developers about that approach.

One weird thing I’ve noticed is that some apps that use smaller fonts are okay. Adobe Lightroom is an example. That’s white on gray and less reading. Maybe the contrast change helps here? Maybe they render the fonts some other way? I don’t know.

I’m sorry that I can’t be more help here. I hope that others have more to say.

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What are the screens you are using? Laptop screens? external monitors?

My current big monitor is a 24 inch monitor which has the same number of pixels as a 19 inch monitor - I intentionally wanted bigger images, not more information.

You problem may not be with blurriness, if you are using Retina monitors - try one of the upscaling options - yes the pixels aren’t perfect at non-native resolutions, but at retina resolution the hope is you can’t notice, and the larger size makes you happier. My built in screen on my MacBook Pro is set to the middle setting which is 1 level larger pixels than the native size.

using non- retina monitors at non-native scales is more of a problem because more people can see the larger pixels on them. Sometimes it’s the graphics card that makes non-native sized things look bad, and not the monitor. Don’t assume that non-native size is bad until you have tried it for yourself. The idea is for YOU to be happy.

Whew, lots there to discuss. What I found is almost the opposite. My macs are easy on the eyes but a windows macine is not. However the displays are so different that you can’t really compare. I would agree to try running windows on the Mac hardware and see if it’s the hardware or the software.

I also am particularly sensitive to distance and the prescription. I wear bifocal contacs and then add one of 2 different prescription glasses on top. One is set for reading books or my iPad and the other is set for my computer distance. My eyes cannot manage to resolve things in a wide band I need a more narrow focal plane and I have to be within a couple of inches of the set distance or I will have headaches, dry eyes etc.

I also have reduced glare and reduced the brightness of my screen. I also have reduce motion and reduce transparency set on my mac.

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I worked with PCs for many years and then about 10 years* ago I was given a MAC at work. Around 6 months after that, I noticed I could not read a thing in the grocery store. I was given glasses.

I then stopped working so much and nowadays I barely spend time on the mac, but, I have noticed, when I do, right after, I cannot read titles or subtitles on the TV from the same distance as usual.

I think it messes with the way your eyes focus.

I have exactly the same symptoms as OP on this. Having never had a Mac before and being on Windows since 3.1 I was really excited about trying one out.

However the screen has caused massive problems and I can feel the muscle ache in and around my eyes which I’ve never experienced before. The uncomfortable sensation is immediate and after a few minutes it becomes difficult to tolerate.

Reading around the subject it seems to be something connected to PWM/dithering which some people are sensitive to. I’ve tried all these and have run out of options.

F.lux
Iris
Night shift
Monitor calibration
Colour profiles (general rgb is slightly better for me)

Given that there seems to be no good solution I am looking to go back to PCs. This is such a shame because Mac OS seems so good.

Have you tried bias lighting? This means putting a bright light behind the monitor.

Plenty of solid evidence that it reduces eye-strain, and the mechanism is well understood. E.g. https://www.howtogeek.com/213464/how-to-decrease-eye-fatigue-while-watching-tv-and-gaming-with-bias-lighting/

There are fancy bias lighting solutions available, but actually you just need a cheap desk lamp and a bright light bulb.

Bias lighting made a big & immediate improvement to my eyestrain when I started using it a few years ago.

Also, if you only experiencing eye strain with the Mac, have you checked the screen refresh rate? This should be 60 hertz (or better). Low refresh rates are known to cause eye strain.

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Thanks for the reply. The refresh rate is 60Hz and it doesn’t have any higher option.

The light source behind the screen is interesting. The issue I have though is that the Mac seems somehow different in the way it projects to the screen and the PC (even a modern one) is far more comfortable to look at. I’m aware the Mac has incredibly accurate colouring but wonder if what’s necessary to obtain that result is causing the problems. I’ll try the light source though.

I hope this doesn’t come across as flippant, given that I’m wading in with something opposite — but felt compelled to share: A few years back, after working on Macs for about 7/8 years, I had reason to set-up a PC that was running Windows 7 (and whatever came immediately after it).

On opening Outlook, I couldn’t understand what was going on, since the screen just looked terrible. All blurry, nothing clear, it was as if some screen resolution setting had been tweaked — and no amount of digging in control panel settings, could get it fixed to what it was before. Several calls to IT, eventually saw them come out in person — since their screensharing clearly couldn’t “see” the problem.

Well, was I awfully sheepish when the penny dropped that what I was looking at, was “normal”. And that there was nothing wrong, I had just unknowingly become used to “macOS resolution”. I really struggled to unsee how bad things looked on Windows, from there forward.

No doubt things have improved over in the Windows world — but it was really jarring to me at the time. So herewith sincere sympathy for your situation — can only imagine how frustrating it must be, and hope you manage to find something in the suggestions here, that will help.

Thanks for sharing. I had no idea that it worked the other way round as well.

As I am so shocked about this I did a lot of reading on the Web about this and it it seems that there are a number of Mac users who upgraded from pre-2015 Macs to more recent ones and have the same problem as me having used PCS. So I expect there is more than one thing at play here. Here are some examples of what I found.

Toshiba satellite experience (exactly like me)

All-rounder - PC/Older Macs vs problem with Retina Display Macs

It isn’t everybody but people with apparently more sensitive eyes. Hopefully some resolution will be found.

My own view really is that many of the reports on the web are nothing to do with computer screens at all: that might well be, and is often, interpreted as saying they are ‘psychosomatic’ or ‘psychological’, which is not what I mean. As you know our eyes don’t work in anything like the way we imagine they do.

There are, anyway, always a lot of variables, time of day, length of time at screens and much more as well as variance between displays: it could well turn out the issue is nothing to do with Macs v Windows as such. Many of the variables are not even noticed by us as in all things ‘medical’, for example liquid intake, beyond the variables we do notice, like being on a mac or windows.
Have your eyes checked too if possible.
However there is general advice about the issue from the pros which maybe you should try first before ditching the Mac! :slightly_smiling_face:

A few years ago, I bought a new MacBook Pro and I loved the bright beautiful screen. A few months later I noticed that my eyes were having light related issues. It occurred to me that my screen was set super bright and beautiful and I thought maybe that was causing the problem.

So what I did was the tone everything down like this: I would look away from the screen to places in the room - and then gradually move my eye to the screen. At first I noticed that the screen was much brighter than the normal room and that my eyes had to make an adjustment for the screen. So I kept toning down the brightness on the screen until it matched the normal room light. Of course this was a lot less fun to look at but I kept it that way.

For the last few years, my eyes have not experienced any light related oddness.

Just passing this on.

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Can you easily check what refresh rate you are getting on Windows? (Notice this mostly makes sense if you are using an external monitor with both macs and windows laptops and you clearly notice more eye fatigue when the Mac is connected to the display). Could also be that the Mac signal is triggering some funky mode in the monitor (like Game Mode, Movie Mode, or something like that). Discard this if you also get that with the built-in laptop display, in which case it would be very helpful to run Windows on that Mac hardware and see what happens.

I’ve just found an application called “SwitchResX” which stops dithering, basically by reducing the colours from billions to millions, or from 10-bit to 8-bit. It’s very very smart and seems to have solved my problem. Finally!!

I’ve worked out from this that the dithering is what’s causing the problem (not PWM which has been suggested) and this also explains why external monitors have the same problem when connected to a Mac, because it’s a software issue choosing to use dithering if the hardware supports it.

If you didn’t know, dithering is switching colours very rapidly to achieve an exact colour which is unachievable otherwise. If you have very sensitive eyes you can detect something “not right” which makes the eye muscles work really hard to cope with it. Just look up “what is temporal dithering” to see an explanation (I found a helpful website using this). Reading about this in more detail, it appears that Apple refuse to take seriously any perceived eye problems caused by this process.

Thanks everybody for your suggestions. I have now found the solution and am typing on my Mac in total relaxation on any colour profile, without any problems whatsoever. I haven’t been able to do this since I got it a few weeks ago so this is a breakthrough.

One final thing. This is a 2019 Intel model. Apparently SwitchResX does not work for M1 processors at the moment, as M1 processors won’t support 8-bit colours, at least on the integrated graphics card.

Anyway, it looks like I don’t need to go to the opticians after all! :laughing:

There are a lot of people out there with this problem - I’ve read about it. If you are one of them I really hope this helps you!

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