Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

The default settings for many computer monitors can cause headaches, but there's often a simple change that might resolve the problem.


The images on my screen seem to shimmer or flicker and give me a headache - is there anything I can do?

Computers can cause headaches, but it's usually because they're doing or not doing something we do or don't want. In this case it might well be that just looking at your computer screen long enough could hurt.

As it turns out, the default settings for many video cards are often less than ideal.

The problem from the card manufacturer's point of view is that they cannot assume that you have anything beyond the bare minimum requirements for a Windows compatible display. These days that typically means 640x480 resolution, 256 colors, and a 60 Hertz refresh rate.

It's that default refresh rate that always drives me nuts.

"Refresh Rate" is, to over-simplify, the number of times each second that the video card draws an image of your screen on the monitor. That's typically much faster than you or I might notice. But it's slow enough that as you look at your monitor, especially if you look from side to side, you might notice a bit of flickering.

Depending on the capabilities of your monitor and video card you can probably change your refresh rate to something else. Most video cards and monitors support settings other than 60hz. And it doesn't take much of a change to make the flicker go away.

To change your monitor's refresh rate in Windows XP:

  • Right-click anywhere on your desktop.

  • Select Properties.

  • Select the Settings tab.

  • Click the Advanced button.

  • Click on the Monitor tab.

  • Click on the Screen refresh rate drop-down list for the settings that you have available to you.

  • Select a new refresh rate if you like, and press OK. Your system will try the new rate and give you 15 seconds to approve it. If your screen goes completely nuts, do nothing. After 15 seconds without a response from you the old settings will be restored.

Just about anything higher than 60hz is enough to reduce or eliminate visible flicker. 72hz or 75hz seem popular and commonly available options.

What if 60hz is the only option listed? Well, there are three possibilities:

  • You have a very old or perhaps very cheap display adapter - this is unlikely these days.

  • You have the default VGA video driver installed. If you locate and install the video drivers for your specific video card you should have access to all the features that card has to offer, including different refresh rates.

  • You have an LCD screen. LCD screens typically operate at only 60hz. But the good news is that the technology is sufficiently different that flicker at 60hz should simply not be an issue.

Finally, the limits of your ability to view video are typically due to your monitor. A monitor that claims to be capable of displaying, say, 1600x1200 may be able to do so but not with a crisp image. Set the resolution as high as you can see comfortably, but no higher. Slightly fuzzy images, like flicker, can cause eyestrain and give you a headache.

Article C1937 - May 10, 2004 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

John and Anna Meskers
February 5, 2005 12:37 PM

Dear Leo
We are suffering from Cancer. Ann had breast cancer. I myself have had head-cancer, in my head. When we rent books from the local library we get them out of the large print division, which makes it a lot easier to read. Do you have anything like this available for my DELL computer ?
Thanking you, John Meskers Sr

February 6, 2005 10:06 AM

There are magnification tools that come with WIndows ... I'd check add/remove windows components in the control panel to see if they've been installed.

I'd also check the overall DPI setting windows runs at as described in this article: By changing it you should be able to magnify everything.

There are also windows themes in the Screen control panel that may choose larger fonts and color schemes that might also be helpful.

daniel tesfai
August 7, 2005 1:02 AM

i have got a problem in changing the screen resolution of my lap top the setting shows default setting and to change the default setting of refresh rate in to lower it is inactive how can i make it active .
sincerly daniel.

August 8, 2005 9:31 AM

Most LCD screens, such as on a laptop, do not allow you to change the refresh rate. (The whole "refresh rate" concept doesn't apply to a LCD connected via a digital interface.)

September 10, 2005 9:32 AM

I recently had my computer reformatted and have installed the same programs as before. My screen fonts however are so faded and almost broken looking i cannot see type and its painful on the eyes. I went into properties/appearance/effects and chose the "clear type" option as opposed to the standard option for smoothing type edges and all of the font now has green and red shadow lines around it which is even more painful on the eyes. My monitor is an LCD.

September 11, 2005 9:18 PM

Are they smaller than before? I'd be tempted to try this:

September 20, 2005 1:16 PM

i turned my refresh rate to all listed and it did not stop the flickering i also have a buzzing sound coming from my screen. i went on holiday on friday and it was running fine then...any suggestions?

September 20, 2005 1:21 PM

Depending on the buzzing, that may not be good. Your monitor may have a hardware problem. Unfortunately repairs are oiften more costly than simply replacing it.

Before you junk it, I would: turn it off for a few hours (if it's been on continuously), and if it has a "degauss" button, try pressing that while it's on.

October 23, 2005 7:39 PM

As you can see from below testimonials, some LCDs are worse than CRTs
some CRTs are worse than LCDs

And all sorts of "expert" solutions (ranging the full gamut) fail - due to the problem with outgassing of flame-retardans/epoxy chemicals (& maybe more). It's all unregulated.
btw: you should also read the online PDF book Black On White, by Granlund-Lind which includes testimonials by many Swedish professionals such as engineers & CAD designers.
Anyway, here's the testimonials URL:

October 26, 2005 6:16 AM

Ok, I read the article, did the procedure recommended. But I think mine is of a different category. The msn dialog box (when chatting to someone) has the flicker and moving issues (No other program has the issue.) sometimes just parts of the box "jumps" back and forth. Sometimes it is when there is a emoticon or wink that makes all the box on the left Jump or move. i am running xp home with sp2 if that helps. Thanks for any advice!

December 4, 2005 3:56 AM

hello i was changing the settings on my computer and my older son was watching me I went to take a break and the tool bar is hugh and some other things are totally messed up on my screen and i do not know what to do to fix it ....... please help me out ...... thank you so much

ron mello
January 26, 2006 9:59 AM

I have a dell 23" lcd tv I am using this as a computer monitor. I have a fuzzy pink edge all around the screen about an inch wide and the screen flickers (like a low refresh rate) I am connected with a dvi and I understand the screen should not flicker. Is the lcd bad? its about 2 years old

michael lee
April 23, 2006 10:27 PM

A new Sony LCD tv - 26 inch seems to run quite a bit hotter than a tube tv. --- it even has a fan and hot plastic (subtle) can be detected in front.Are LCDs known for more toxic outgassing? Does it lessen, and is it a concern - worth going to a different type of tv. I seem to get a headache from it- but it was expensive.



The Person
June 15, 2006 12:21 PM

FreekLord, I think the problem is the font size. To change the font size go to display->appearance->advanced. Now click on the bar tha comes down and is called Item (it will be set to desktop). Then go to icon, now you can change font, font size and icon size. I use Tahoma. Icon size 31 and font size 8. This may also help tawania, if not, there are many other options in what I just explained that will because I have had both of these problems.

November 21, 2006 2:42 AM

I put my system into standby today. When I came back 4 hours later it didn't turn on with mouse or keyboard input. So I rebooted it. The icons had all lined up on the left and they had a flicker (although the desktop background did not). In other programs, information in the window is fine, but the border and menus flicker. I suppose it is more of a regular flash once every 5 seconds or so.

No settings have changed. Refresh rate is 85hz.

Any ideas would be appreciated. Thanks

Gary Bkb
November 27, 2006 5:48 PM

On Friday I started to use my new LG LCD monitor. There was a smell like someone was smoking something in the room, but no one could. Later that night I became ill. Saturday early morning I was taken to the ER, I have not been that ill in many years. After 3 hours I was released, and the Flu was suggested.

Sunday morning I turned on the computer and sometime later I went back into my computer room
& bedroom. The fumes hit me quickly. I immediately became ill, nausea, dizzy and felt very ill again. So I immediately turned off the monitor, opened doors and windows and stayed on the living room couch. I began to feel better and recovered quickly.

I am now looking for a testing facility to find out what I was exposed to, and then find out if any long term effects are known.

Beware of new monitors. If it smels, gives you a headache or anything peculiar STOP USING IT!
My medical bills will easily be more than 10 LCD monitors.

Peter King
December 27, 2006 8:59 AM

I found a similar problem that caused me to become nauseated and dizzy. But instead of the cause being the monitor, I found it was the air contained inside of the computer being outputted by the fans in the back of the computer. When I better vented the room, added a top notch air cleaner and set my power settings such that the computer would effectively turn off after 15 minutes on non-use, my symptoms have largely dissappeared. After later using a laptop computer in a different and well vented room, I found most all my systems disappeared.

Although a number of people have suggested the problem relates to the monitor, I'm convinced that in many cases it's the chemicals and heavy metals that are used to manufacture the boards and contained within the computer (e.g., mercury, leaded plastics, pcbs, solder, to name just a few of the many hundreds) that are causing the problem. I imagine if the federal government tested the output from the back of the computer being pumped out by the cooling fans they'd find that many toxins are being outputted into your living or working spaces. It's funny that computers must be carefully disposed of due to the many toxins contained in them, but it's okay to use them in the house and working spaces even though they're heated up to relatively high temperatures (releasing at least some of the toxins into the air) and then cooled by fans that pump these toxins and heavy metals out into your local environment.

I'd be very interested to know whether any objective organization has ever checked this out?

January 6, 2007 9:11 PM

Try switching from the VGA cord and using the DVI cord instead. Worked for me.

Michelle Shevlin
September 21, 2007 9:11 AM

I am the proud new owner of a 46 inch lcd1080 as I acquiessed to my husband during a mental lapse. I now have the behemoth stinking up the family room and want to know how long it will take to outgas with the windows open, and if the danger passes once it outgasses. Please answer as I am nervous, I have a child.Thanks.

B Phillips
November 28, 2007 12:02 PM

Can the flicker be 'measured',strobed or videoed in some way so that I can avoid the 'Headache Test'and persuade the non seers to FIX IT?

February 20, 2008 11:23 AM

Just to thank you for this, it worked perfectly and saved a lengthy wait for IT to fix my work PC screen :o)

Robert Alton
June 24, 2008 12:51 PM

I'vehad greatdifficulty looking at any computer screen for more than 15 minutes.If
eelstrain in my head and it only gets worse if Idon't stop. Idon't reactthis way to most old TV screens. What's the difference,coulditbethe refresh rate I'mreactingto? My computer is adjustablebetween 60-75, butitdoesn'tseemtomake any differnce.

Tien Khoa Nguyen
July 28, 2010 7:46 PM

This is my third graphics card! In ths card, there is a flicker. Just try different video cards and mess around with the settings. You should eventually (hopefully) find one that is good for you!!!

October 17, 2011 11:39 AM

Thanks a million - it worked beautifully :))))

November 6, 2011 5:26 AM

I had a screen flickering problem when running games. I thought it was a graphics problem, but it was a power issue.

I had many plugs (screen, PC, printer, speakers, lamp) all plugged into one power strip. The screen couldn't cope with so much power share. So when I plugged the screen into its own socket the the flickering stopped.

May 2, 2012 9:26 AM

Thanks Leo, did as you said and changed refresh rate to 75mhz all is well. Cheers

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