MTE Explains: Can Monitors Really Hurt You?

As far back as the 1970s, there was a distinct group of people who had concerns regarding the safety of screens. Fast forward to 2014, and screens are absolutely everywhere we walk. They are in bars, in hotels, at the DMV, and basically anywhere where they are useful as boredom deterrents. In the average person’s home, you’ll find one or two TV sets and an active monitor somewhere. The growing presence of screens in our lives has transformed their safety into an issue that some are taking so seriously, they are calling it a crisis. Whenever people are concerned, it is probably useful to help them understand what they are concerned about. And this is what we’re going to do!

How Monitors Vary In Safety

First of all, let’s explain why people are concerned: Monitors, like any other electronic device, emit non-ionizing radiation. While most of this type of radiation (we’ll call it “NI” radiation) isn’t going to give you instant cancer, long-term consistent exposure to some forms of it will damage your retina and might even go so far as to damage neurons.

Of course, I would be a little bit too optimistic by saying that no monitor will emit ionizing radiation. Cathode ray tube (box-like) monitors emit X-rays.

LED/LCD monitors do not suffer from this issue since they don’t use tubes to emit light with electron guns. Instead, they just emit light through diodes (small surfaces that react to electricity by transforming it into light) and change the color of each pixel through transistors and liquid crystals.

Why The CRT Concern Isn’t That Much of a Big Deal


It might sound like I’m minimizing the whole argument that X-rays are harmful, but I’m going to start off by saying that they are indeed extremely harmful and volatile. But the danger isn’t much of a concern with any device — television or not — that emits X-rays through cathode ray tubes. Here’s why:

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a code that prevents manufacturers from creating television sets (and this also applies to computer monitors) that emit more than 0.5 milliroentgens of radiation per hour at a staring distance of 5 centimeters. That means that if your face is roughly two inches (the length of your thumb) away from the screen, you’ll get a very microscopic and negligible dose of X-ray radiation.
  • Today, the vast majority of CRT manufacturers don’t even touch the 0.5 milliroentgen limit. Their need to be energy efficient has significantly reduced the amount of radiation emitted to far below the already-harmless threshold described earlier.

Why You Should Still Be Concerned

The radiation emitted by your monitor is negligible. That’s awesome. But that doesn’t mean that the danger is clear. People still report getting headaches and pain in their eyes when using monitors for extended periods. If radiation isn’t the culprit, then what could possibly be causing these symptoms? These people simply can’t be imagining the pain!

The refresh rate of CRT monitors causes a constant flicker. If that flicker is more noticeable, it will cause the eyes to strain while trying to retain their focus on the image. To some extent, cheaper LED/LCD monitors also have this issue and it can really have a negative effect on the eyes.


Your eyes are best used to look at objects that move fluidly throughout the world. Any strobe effect, no matter how small, can ruin your focus, forcing your muscles to strain. The long term effects of this condition haven’t been studied extensively yet, but it’s safe to assume that you might end up damaging your eyes in the long run.

Modern high-end monitors are able to retain their capacitor charge throughout the refresh cycle and do not flicker when refreshing. I highly suggest you invest some money in them if you’re concerned. My left-hand 27-inch monitor cost me $250 and that was about two years ago.


Let’s recapitulate on what we’ve covered so far:

  • All monitors emit radiation.
  • Some forms of radiation are less harmful than others.
  • The radiation that monitors emit is generally harmless.
  • Despite the low radiation levels, people can still suffer long-term damage or short-term headaches due to excessive exposure to flickering screens.
  • Higher-end monitors mostly eliminate the flicker effect, causing them to be easier on the eyes.

Even if you have a high-end monitor that is virtually flicker-less, I still suggest taking breaks once in awhile. You’re still staring at a bright artificial light source. Take a breather every hour or so.

If you have more helpful advice, or more questions, be sure to leave a comment below! We can all help each other!

Miguel Leiva-Gomez
Miguel Leiva-Gomez

Miguel has been a business growth and technology expert for more than a decade and has written software for even longer. From his little castle in Romania, he presents cold and analytical perspectives to things that affect the tech world.

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