Eye Wellness: Eyestrain

There are many facets of eye wellness, from avoiding eye injury, to proper care for contacts, and even cosmetic eye care. One important topic to cover is eyestrain, which many of us deal with daily.

Eyestrain occurs when your eyes get tired from intense use, such as driving a car for extended periods, reading, or working at a computer. Although eyestrain can be annoying, it usually isn't serious and goes away once you rest your eyes. In some cases, signs and symptoms of eyestrain can indicate an underlying eye condition that needs treatment.

You may not be able to change the nature of your job or all the factors that can cause eyestrain, you can take steps to reduce eyestrain.

Symptoms

Eyestrain signs and symptoms include:

  • Sore, tired, burning, or itching eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Sore neck
  • Sore back
  • Shoulder pain
  • Increased sensitivity to light

Computer use can cause additional eyestrain symptoms, including:

Having trouble shifting your focus between monitor and paper documents

Seeing color fringes or afterimages when you look away from the monitor

Causes

Common causes of eyestrain include:

  • Extended use of a computer or video monitor
  • Reading for extended periods
  • Other activities involving extended periods of intense focus and concentration, such as using a microscope or driving a vehicle
  • Exposure to bright light or glare
  • Straining to see in very dim light

Using a computer for long periods is one of the most common causes of eyestrain.

This type of eyestrain is called computer vision syndrome. In some cases, an underlying eye problem such as eye muscle imbalance or uncorrected vision can cause or worsen computer eyestrain.

When to See a Doctor

If home treatments don't work to relieve your eye strain symptoms, see your eye doctor. See your doctor if you have ongoing symptoms that include:

  • Eye discomfort
  • A noticeable change in vision
  • Double vision
  • Headache

Prevention

Take eye breaks. Throughout the day, give your eyes a break by forcing them to focus on something other than on your computer screen. A good rule of thumb is to follow the 20/20/20 rule:

Every 20 minutes, take your eyes off your computer and look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

Do other work, such as phone calls or filing, during this time.

Try to stand up and move around at least once every hour or so.

If possible, lean back and close your eyes for a few moments.

Blink often to refresh your eyes. Because many people blink less than normal when working at a computer, dry eyes can result from prolonged computer use. Blinking produces tears that moisten and lubricate your eyes.

Consider using artificial teardrops. Over-the-counter artificial tears can help prevent and relieve dry eyes that result from prolonged sessions at the computer.

Your doctor can suggest which drops might be best for you. Lubricating drops that don't contain preservatives can be used as often as you need. Avoid eye drops with a redness remover, as these may worsen dry eye symptoms.

Improve the air quality in your workspace. Simple changes that may help prevent dry eyes include using a humidifier, turning down the thermostat and avoiding smoke.

Massage your eyelids and muscles over your brow, temple and upper cheek once or twice daily.

This maneuver can be performed with your bare hands and fingers or can be done using a warm towel over closed eyes. Gently massage your upper eyelid against your brow bone for about 10 seconds. Follow by massaging your lower eyelid against the lower bone for 10 seconds. This process can stimulate your tear glands, which may help prevent dry eyes.

Massaging the muscles in the area around your eye (orbit) also helps relax those muscles, which may reduce some of the symptoms of eyestrain.

Get appropriate eyewear. If you wear glasses or contacts, make sure the correction is right for computer work.

Most lenses are fitted for reading print and may not be optimal for computer work.

Glasses or contact lenses designed specifically for computer work may be a worthwhile investment. 

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