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

2 Likes

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?

3 Likes

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

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.

1 Like

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.

2 Likes

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.