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.

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.

Prescription Computer Glasses

Computer eyeglasses can be helpful in reducing eye strain. These prescription glasses allow the eyes to focus specifically at the computer screen distance (about 20-26 inches away from the face). Some of these glasses have multifocal lenses to help you quickly shift your focus between close, intermediate, and far distances. Prescription computer glasses for reducing eye strain are not the same as “blue light blocking” glasses.

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. 

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. 

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.

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.

Look to us for all your eye care needs. In addition to our advanced diagnostic and surgical services, Barth Vision & Optical also offers a full-service optical department where patients can choose among a wide variety of frames, specialty lenses and sunglasses, including many designer brands not available in most optical shops.