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Eye Strain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Eye strain is a condition that occurs when a person engages in vision-intensive tasks for prolonged periods of time without breaks and without changing eye focus. Routine tasks that can lead to eye strain include reading, driving for long distances, or working on a computer.

man rubbing eyes holding eyeglasses

Eye strain it is not considered a serious vision issue, and it usually goes away once you rest your eyes. However, signs and symptoms of eye strain can indicate an underlying condition that needs treatment.

There is no medical treatment for eye strain, with doctors and patients relying on home remedies and lifestyle changes to ease its effects.

What Is Eye Strain?

Eye strain is a condition that occurs when a person engages in vision-intensive tasks for prolonged periods of time without breaks and without changing eye focus.

Tasks that can lead to eye strain include reading, working on a computer, playing video games and driving for long distances.

Eye-care professionals do not consider eye strain to be a serious vision issue, although its signs and symptoms can indicate an underlying condition that requires treatment. 

When faced with someone who has eye strain, eye doctors can run several tests to ensure that their patient has eye strain and not a more serious issue.

Symptoms of Eye Strain

The most common symptoms of eye strain include:

  • Headache
  • Sore or irritated eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Dry or watery eyes
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Inability to keep your eyes open

Causes of Eye Strain

Eye strain occurs as the eyes gradually strain to maintain clear vision. This ocular fatigue prevents the eyes from retaining a sharp focus on near objects and reduces their ability to change focus rapidly.

There are many factors that can cause eye strain, including:

  • Reading fine print or in dim light for long.
  • Driving for long distances without taking breaks.
  • Medical conditions like diabetes or cataracts.
  • Doing close work, such as sewing, painting, or working on a computer.
  • Glare from windows or bright lights.
  • Staring at a computer screen for too long without taking a break.

Computer Vision Syndrome

Computer vision syndrome is a type of eye strain associated with heavy computer use. Roughly 74 percent of people who spend seven to nine hours a day at the computer suffer from this condition.

Computer vision syndrome is usually caused by too much or too little ambient lighting combined with improper viewing distances and angles. It is also associated with high levels of psychological stress placed on the sustained visual task.

Complications of Eye Strain

Eye strain can be a nuisance, but it usually goes away once you rest your eyes or take other steps to reduce the amount of work they must do.

However, some of the symptoms of eye strain (such as lack of concentration and headache) can lower your productivity and affect your work. If you are a student, it can affect your performance at school.

Eye Strain Diagnosis

Doctors diagnose eye strain based on a medical history and physical examination. They will ask you about your symptoms, when they occurred and your daily activities, including:

  • How often you use a computer or other digital device
  • Your reading habits
  • The environment you do these things in, such as in direct sunlight or in a brightly lit room

Your doctor will then do a physical examination to examine your eyes for signs of inflammation or damage to your eyelids, cornea, lens, iris and retina. You can expect a range of tests, including:

  • A standard vision exam
  • A refraction test to find out if you need glasses or a change in your prescription
  • An eye exam with drops to dilate the pupils
  • A slit-lamp test to see the front of the eye to check for inflammation or infection

If your eye doctor discovers that you are nearsighted, farsighted or have astigmatism, you can expect to get a prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses as a way to correct the vision issues.

Eye Strain Treatment

You can treat eye strain with lifestyle changes and home remedies. Let your eye doctor know if the condition persists or recurs despite treatment. You may have underlying health or vision problems that need to be addressed. 

Lifestyle Changes for Eye Strain

  • Take frequent breaks. Rest your eyes for 15 minutes after every two hours of close work. You can also try the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This will help your eyes relax and refocus.
  • Blink more often. Blink periodically when reading or working at a computer. It helps keep the eyes lubricated and reduces the sensation of dry eyes.
  • Adjust the lighting. adjust the lighting in your room or office to reduce glare on surfaces, such as walls and desks.
  • Reduce glare from your computer screen and other light sources by using an anti-glare screen on your monitor.

Home Remedies Treatment for Eye Strain

  • Place warm compresses over your eyes for five to 10 minutes a few times a day. Avoid using this method if you have glaucoma or another eye condition that may be aggravated by heat.
  • Use artificial tears (eyedrops) to refresh dry eyes and keep them lubricated during computer use or other activities. Be sure to talk to your doctor before using these products. Some drops can make symptoms worse if you use them too much, and some drops are not safe for people who wear contacts.
  • Use a humidifier in your home or office to help prevent dry eyes.

Medical Treatment Options for Eye Strain

There is no prescribed medical treatment for eye strain. The condition is usually treated using home remedies and lifestyle changes. If home treatment does not work, your doctor can explore other options and the possibility of underlying issues. 

If you have chronic eye strain, see an ophthalmologist. They will check for other problems that may be causing the eye strain and recommend treatments to address the issue.

How to Prevent Eye Strain at Work

Follow these easy steps to prevent eye strain at work:

  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Adjust your lighting and screen settings to match the brightness of the surrounding work environment.
  • Sit at the proper distance from your computer screen.
  • Blink often when you are using the computer.
  • Wear special glasses with lenses that filter blue light emitted by digital screens.

How to Prevent Screen Eye Strain

Eye strain can often be prevented with a few simple modifications to your environment. 

  • Reduce glare on your computer screen by using a matte filter over the monitor or blinds on nearby windows.
  • Place the monitor no more than 4 to 5 inches below eye level.
  • Increase text size on the screen to make it as easy as possible to read.
  • Position your computer screen about 20 to 28 inches (one arm’s length) away from your eyes.
  • Keep your display clean and dust-free and position your monitor so that air can circulate freely.

FAQs

How do you relieve eye strain?

Here are some remedies for eye strain:

  • Blink more often.
  • Take frequent breaks from your work.
  • Reduce glare from your computer screen and other light sources by using an anti-glare screen on your monitor.
  • Use warm compresses.
  • Use artificial tears.

If the remedies above don’t relieve eye strain, reach out to your doctor.

How long does it take to recover from eye strain?

Eye strain usually goes away when you rest your eyes. You can do this by taking a break from your screen or any visually intensive tasks you have been doing. The symptoms of eye strain will gradually go away over the course of a few hours.

In most cases, you won’t need medical treatment for eye strain. The exception is when an underlying eye condition is present. If your symptoms do not improve over time, see your eye doctor for further treatment.

Is eye strain permanent?

Eye strain is temporary. When you spend time resting your eyes, they will return to normal function in a few hours. 

References

  1. Management of digital eye strain. (April 2021). Clinical and experimental Optometry

  2. Effects of Visual Display Units on the Eyes: (October 1980). Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 

  3. Effects of ocular surface area and blink rate on tear dynamics. (June 1995).  Archives of Ophthalmology (JAMA Ophthalmology)

  4. Computer vision syndrome (Digital eye strain). (Date accessed 6 march 2022). American Optometric Association

  5. Computer Vision Syndrome During SARS-CoV-2 Outbreak in University Students: A Comparison Between Online Courses and Classroom Lectures. (July 2021). Frontiers in public health.

  6. Cornea and anterior eye assessment with slit lamp biomicroscopy, specular microscopy, confocal microscopy, and ultrasound biomicroscopy  (Feb 2018). Indian Journal of Ophthalmology.

  7. Astigmatism.  (June 2019).  National Eye Institute

  8. In vitro bactericidal activity of 0.6% povidone-iodine eye drops formulation. (October 2018) European Journal of Ophthalmology.

  9. How to administer eye drops and eye ointment. (May 2016)  Nursing Standard (2014+); London

  10. What is an Ophthalmologist? (Jan 2022). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Last Updated March 30, 2022

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