The Ideal Distance for TV Viewing

Sitting at an optimal viewing distance helps avoid eye strain.

Contrary to popular belief, sitting too close to the TV is not bad for your eyes. Years ago, TV viewing distance was of popular debate, as 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.

Woman watching TV
 iStock

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

Some eye care professionals recommend sitting approximately eight to 10 feet away from the TV screen. The general rule of thumb is to be at least five 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.

Lastly, as different types of screens have become more common in homes, the American Optometric Association promotes the 20-20-20 rule. They suggest that you take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to view a distant object that is 20 feet away. So, for example, if you watch your favorite movie or TV show on your laptop, take regular breaks to avoid eye strain.

TV Distance Calculator

Although the general rule is to be at least five times the distance from the screen as the screen is wide, closer viewing distances are recommended for higher-quality televisions.

The detail of a 4K HD TV screen and even a regular HD TV screen allows for a closer viewing distance than a standard television screen. The pixels are smaller with these types of high-definitive televisions, making it easier for the eyes to see up close.

For televisions with 4K resolution, the recommended distance for viewing is one and a half times of the vertical screen size. For HD TVs, the recommended distance is three times of the TV vertical screen size.

Viewing Distances for 4k Resolution Televisions
Television Size  Approximate Viewing Distance Range
43 inch 90 centimeters (2.95 feet)
55 inch 1 meter (3.28 feet)
65 inch 1.2 meter (3.94 feet)
75 inch 1.4 meters (4.60 feet)
85 inch 1.6 meters (5.25 feet)
Viewing Distances for High Definition Televisions
Television Size  Approximate Viewing Distance Range
32 inch 1.2 meters (3.94 feet)
40 inch 1.5 meters (4.92 feet)
43 inch 1.7 meters (5.57 feet)
50 inch 1.9 meters (6.23 feet)
60 inch 2.3 meters (7.55 feet)

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, 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. Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Sore, irritated eyes
  • Trouble focusing
  • Dry or watery eyes

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 (or less) 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, especially in the dark, can cause eye strain due to constant focusing on a small, bright object. 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.

Prevention

Eye doctors recommend a simple technique for preventing eye strain. If you are staring at a screen for an extended time, shift your focus from near to far. For example, if you usually stay 10 feet from a screen, move at least 20 feet away. You can also take periodic breaks from looking at a screen.

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
  • Do not 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 does not have enough quality tears to lubricate and nourish the eye.

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

Rules for Other Devices

It seems that many kids today tend to watch content or play video games on 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 their screen about arm’s length (18 to 24 inches) away from their eyes. Your child should view the screen at the level of their 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 their devices at this distance, enlarging the text on the screen may help. 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.

Summary

Due to the advancements of modern television screens, watching TV up close will not injure your eyes. However, watching TV from a close distance may lead to eye strain or fatigue. It is generally recommended to be at least five times the distance from the screen as the screen is wide.

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.

Also, know that viewing distance preferences can vary from person to person, and symptoms of eye strain or eye fatigue may improve with a few adjustments. You may find that sitting a bit further than usual from your television, getting a more high-quality television, or adjusting the display settings may be easier on your eyes.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do TVs emit blue light?

    Yes, TVs emit blue light. Contrary to popular belief, you will not get eye damage from exposure to blue light emitted by devices like your phone, tablet, and TV. However, it is still a good idea to be mindful of how much screen-time you get, especially before bed. Late-night watching on blue light screens can make falling asleep more difficult.

  • Why is my child blinking a lot when watching TV?

    If your child is blinking a lot when watching TV, it might be a habitual tic. Blinking is a common and harmless tic for many children. Repetitive behaviors like this often go away after some time. Otherwise, blinking a lot when watching TV could be a sign that they need glasses to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. If you are concerned about the blinking, let your child's healthcare provider know so they can examine the behavior first-hand.

  • Should people who wear glasses take extra precautions watching TV?

    People who wear glasses may want to be sure to wear their glasses when watching TV. Their glasses might help them see the TV screen better, which helps reduce the possibility of eye strain and avoid having to focus too hard to see.

  • Is it bad for children to watch a lot of TV?

    While watching a lot of TV will not cause eye damage in children, too much of TV-watching may lead to eye fatigue or eye strain. Studies also suggest that children who spend more than four hours per day watching TV or using media are more likely to be overweight.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Food and Drug Administration. Television Radiation.

  2. Sheppard AL, Wolffsohn JS. Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and ameliorationBMJ Open Ophthalmol. 2018;3(1):e000146. doi:10.1136/bmjophth-2018-000146

  3. Sony. What Is the Recommended Viewing Distance for Televisions?

  4. John Hopkins Medicine. Eyestrain.

  5. Read JC, Bohr I. User experience while viewing stereoscopic 3D televisionErgonomics. 2014;57(8):1140–1153. doi:10.1080/00140139.2014.914581

  6. Messmer EM. The pathophysiology, diagnosis, and treatment of dry eye diseaseDtsch Arztebl Int. 2015;112(5):71–82. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2015.0071

  7. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Screen Use for Kids.

  8. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Should You Be Worried About Blue Light?

  9. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Excessive Blinking in Children.

  10. Nemours Children's Health. How Media Use Can Affect Kids.

Additional Reading

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.