I am translating my story that was initially written here. It is both my intro and also a description of a problem that does not seem to be discussed in English, yet. I called it Problem X, simply because I had no slightest idea what causes it for a long time and now I only have a hypothesis. It is very hard to pinpoint. There are similar stories in that thread, but it seems I am affected stronger than most.
I wrote my story and the tests I made in the tiniest details so that it can help with any further research if needed.
Key features of Problem X:
- inability to adjust the brightness: the screen is either completely dark or immediately too bright
- white color on the screen is blinding. White text on a black background is blurry (more blurry than usual for people with astigmatism)
- a subjective feeling of looking at welding
- severe pain and pressure in the eyes, subsequent trouble focusing into the distance (not a specific symptom as it may be present with other problems)
My previous tech
Samsung Note II - Super Amoled screen, PWM
Samsung Note 3 - Super Amoled screen, PWM
Samsung Note 5 - Super Amoled screen, PWM (PWM 240 Hz according to these measurements)
The Samsung Note 10 Lite was the first phone where I encountered Problem X; used it for 3 weeks and switched back to Samsung Note 5.
Samsung S20 FE is the current phone, I have been using it (or better to say have been avoiding using it) since the beginning of October, with some hope to find a solution.
Phone usage - many hours a day. The phone is the device I spend the most screen time on. On Samsung Note 5, I could read for several days in a row without a break, without even feeling tired.
I always immediately set up my tech for myself, to make it comfortable for me. I prefer matte screens, a warm white color temperature.
I feel comfortable with low brightness, all phones and screens are used by 10-30%, no more.
I had no previous troubles or complaints with any kind of tech, apart from two minor things about 10 years ago.
Feels perfect, the picture is absolutely clear. I have slight astigmatism (1.75) in one of my eyes, which I don't feel when I look with both eyes. Thus, I see the horizontal lines with that eye absolutely clearly, and the vertical ones are slightly blurred.
I don't need glasses or correction.
I have never had vision problems. I don't have photophobia. I walk under the summer sun without sunglasses, I don't like them.
My eyes instantly focus at any distance.
When I had my light sensitivity symptoms at their strongest, I went to a full ophthalmological examination.
- standard visual acuity test with a refractometer
- checking peripheral vision with a device
- measurement of intraocular pressure
- analysis of the nerve fiber of the retina and the head of the optic nerve, analysis of the macula with the device
- computed tomography
- examination of the fundus under a microscope
- eye moisture test
(There were a lot of tests, hope I made no mistakes in this list)
Everything was absolutely fine with me, my eyes were completely healthy except for astigmatism. Nothing more interesting was found, although they tried.
Does astigmatism affect the phone problem?
It may be more difficult for me to focus on a dangerous screen with an eye with astigmatism. In the beginning, it was the first to start to hurt, it hurt longer and stronger. But without this screen, I do not feel any problems with the eye. Later both eyes were suffering evenly. This same eye is the dominant eye (the one on which the individual primarily relies to obtain accurate spatial data).
Samsung Note 10 lite
In spring 2021, I decided to change my smartphone, from Samsung Note 5 to Samsung Note 10 lite. In the store, I had no questions about the screen. At home, it began to seem to me that it was not very comfortable to look at the screen - as if there was something wrong with the brightness, and the image clarity was poor, and something was... not right. I decided that the matter was in the factory settings and began to habitually change the font-color temperature-etc. The situation did not improve with any new setups. I noticed a strange thing: the white font on a black background was blurry. I didn't have this on other phones.
The next day, I started reading with the usual low brightness, and I noticed a strange new thing: the text seemed fuzzy, it was kind of hard to focus. When the brightness was increased, it became too bright for the eyes, but the text became clearer. I did not find a comfortable brightness.
During the first two days, I felt a weird pressure in the eyes. I don't remember at what point. The pressure on my eyes increased, I began to actively set up the phone and tried different software settings.
Then I tried, just in case, to remove PWM with the Oled saver and found out that it did not help my eyes in any way.
For the first few days, I did not realize the importance of the symptoms and thought that I would either get used to it or find a solution. Meanwhile, the pressure in the eyes was building up, and after using the phone, it became difficult to see clearly into the distance. When looking into the distance, I also felt pressure in the eyes. The pressure of a similar force in the eyes is felt when you try to look at the bridge of your nose, or look at stereo images, crossing your eyes. But the direction of pressure felt different. The pressure started the second I looked at the phone, then built up.
I realized it was bad. I checked if the matrix is defective - no, it is no different from other note 10 lite in the store, they also had the same effect on me. I checked if a particular model was to blame - no, the entire Note 10 and Note 20 model line was terrible, maybe a little weaker than the Note 10 Lite.
I continued to use my phone and the pressure turned into a sharp pain the moment I looked at the screen.
In the second week, the spasm became persistent, it did not go away if the phone was not used, and to maintain the persistence of the spasm, it was enough to look at the phone for a few seconds a day. I could not see clearly at medium and far distances, my eyes were pressed and hurt when trying to focus far.
For a long time I searched for similar symptoms and a solution on the Internet, I did not find anything useful. After making sure that PWM was not to blame, I gave up, sold the phone, and returned to Note 5. In total, I used Note 10 lite for 3 weeks. In another 2 or 3 weeks after returning to Note 5, my eyes returned to normal, my vision was completely restored and I completely forgot about the problem.
In September, I broke my Note 5 and I made a second attempt to update the phone.
I started by walking into every retail store and looking at their entire phone range with my eyes. The original plan was to find a set of models that wouldn't hurt my eyes and then choose between them.
It turned out that there were no such phones.
Phones I have tested:
Absolutely everything that was in Ukrainian retail stores as of September 2021 and cost above $270. Gave special attention to IPS phones and AMOLED phones flickering at 450 Hz+
For a mysterious reason, I was most comfortable on 3 models: Xiaomi MI 11 Lite in the first place, Samsung S20 FE in the second, Iphone 11 in the third.
By "most comfortable" I mean that the phones hit me in the eye not after 5 seconds, but after 15.
At first glance, it may seem that these three phones are united by the topic of dimming: Xiaomi MI 11 Lite has a very unusual flickering scheme, Samsung S20 FE has dc dimming, Iphone 11 has ips. However, Xiaomi IPS models and high-frequency PWM phones hurt my eyes instntly on par with the rest, as did the Iphone 11 unless lowering the white point in the settings.
I have noticed that the reflective properties of modern screens, or rather their glasses, have increased: most of them are glossier and more reflective than my Note 5. The reflection of a ceiling lamp on a modern screen (turned off) hits the eyes more than the reflection on the Note 5 screen. To eliminate glare, I pasted a matte film on the screens in the store and realized that the film improves something.
I decided to experiment with S20 FE.
Since purchasing the S20 FE, I've experienced a wide variety of symptoms. When screen protectors were applied on the phone, the symptoms vary. When I peeled off all the layers, the symptoms approached the Note 10 Lite, but were somewhat easier.
What I felt with films or glasses above the screen (simultaneously or alternately):
- sharp pain when looking at the screen
- pressure when looking at the screen
- pain when looking into the distance
- pressure when looking into the distance
- unable to focus into the distance
- difficulty to focus at medium distance
- double vision of small objects at a medium distance
- slow focusing when looking from the phone to another object
- the picture in the camera app looked strange, distorted, "curved", sometimes a little stereoscopic
- once or twice the movie on the screen looked a little stereoscopic: the silhouettes of the actors were as if cut out of cardboard and were close instead of being two-dimensional and far away
- eyes perceive the screen as too bright, but the picture does not look particularly bright
- when the brightness decreases, the first few seconds it becomes easier, and then, when the eyes adapt to the decreased brightness, it starts to burn again
- feeling like I'm looking on a wielding
- the screen seems to be the brightest object in the room
- eyes burn, as from a burn
- eyes becoming very red
- watery eyes
- eyes dry up, there is a feeling of sand
- difficult to focus. I want to squint all the time to improve clarity
- I look as if at the screen, but on a comfortable phone I look as if through the screen, without peering into the letters
- eyes seem to twist, trying to peer
- something clicked in my eyes. I did not know that there is something to click in the eyes - but there is, it turns out.
- photophobia: light bulbs seem too bright
- the colors of ordinary objects looked neon: for example, red appeared orange. This did not happen at the time of using the phone, but, for example, the next day
- prints of ordinary light objects, such as windows, began to remain brighter and longer on the retina
- the screen of the comfortable phone resembles a white sheet: the light seems to remain in it and does not go beyond the glass. The screen of the S20 FE resembles a LED lamp with harsh light as if the light is directed into the eyes.
- the image of the phone is sharply imprinted on the retina if you take your eyes off it. I don’t remember such a strong effect on another technique.
Later on, at some point in time, I had to use S20 FE for a few hours per day for a couple of weeks. It added to this list of symptoms:
- horrible light sensitivity, inability to walk on the street with cloudy weather (had to wear sunglasses)
- pain from light sources being somewhere in my vision field
- red blood vessels appearing on my eyes after a second or two of looking on the screen (checked with mirror)
- after the end of these two weeks I started to see my own blood vessels in my vision field when I am very close to a light source. I see them every time when I walk under lamps in my apartment.
Light sensitivity did not resemble migraine light sensitivity in any way (I can compare), it was something else, felt traumatic, maybe dry eye-like. Pain from light sources felt different than my other behind-the-eyes pain, I suspect it was on the surface, probably connected to visible blood vessels.
I didn't experience any neurological symptoms. No headaches, no fatigue, no brain for - only vision problems.
All of these symptoms came and went, depending on the combination of screen protectors and time on the phone.
Then I significantly decreased my phone usage to a couple of minutes per day. But I made a mistake and tried to switch to another phone, an old Redmi 4a. I had a number of layers above S20 FE that successfully limited this pressure feeling, and I got it full-scale from Redmi 4a. I am now avoiding both phones, but unfortunately, Redmi 4a added to my list of symptoms:
- I felt strong pain and inability to move my eyes at all, for about 4-5 days, starting from the next day I tried Redmi 4a (I had to look in front of myself and avoid slightest eye movements or focusing)
- I feel tired from my safe notebook or other screens and just from looking at anything close
- I feel constant subtle pressure behind my eyes
- Double vision persists
Now, this continuous pressure feeling eventually led to a couple of headaches in the middle of usage of my safe screen. When I checked my vision in the middle of a headache with the Brock sting, I found out my focal point was jumping like crazy. I lovered the brightness of my safe screen beyond minimal using Dimmer, and it seemed to prevent any further headaches.
Is there a picture that is particularly painful to look at?
- a white charging indicator on a black AOD, which is displayed with increased brightness. It's like a knife is stuck in the eye.
- scroll, at any screen refresh rate. Scroll through the page or something on the screen - and immediately a sharp pain. To feel discomfort, it is not necessary to peer at the screen or read the text. If a person scrolls this screen more than half a meter away and I don't see the text, I'll still be hurt.