Did you know that the average American worker spends 7 hours a day on the computer, either at the office or remotely? According to a 2015 survey conducted by the American Optometric Association (AOA), 58% of these adults experience eye strain symptoms of some sort.
As per a report by The Vision Council, 90% of all those who sit in front of a computer for at least 3 hours a day suffer some kind of vision problems "associated with computer eye strain."
What's astounding is that digital eye strain problems and job-related eye injuries affect over 800,000 American workers annually and that 90% of them are actually preventable. Although digital devices are the most common cause of eye strain, they're not the only ones.
If you think you may be experiencing eye strain symptoms such as dry eyes, headaches, blurry vision, and neck or shoulder pain, make sure to read this post to the end. We'll be discussing causes and symptoms of eye strain and offering practical tips you can use every day to proactively protect your eyes and actually improve your vision!
Table of Contents
What is Eye Strain?
Do you find yourself squinting, having blurry vision or rubbing your eyes? Are you plagued by a certain heaviness in your eyes and suffer frequent headaches?
You may be a victim of eye strain and eye fatigue also known as asthenopia.
Eye strain is fairly common and affects a large number of the US population. It's not considered to be an eye disorder but rather a symptom, and may be an indication to a larger problem.
It occurs when eyes get fatigued and tired from overuse especially when working at the computer, reading small text or driving a car for a long period of time. Any activity that demands intense eye use for an extended period can cause eye strain.
Eye Strain Causes
Eye strain can be attributed to:
- Bad or poor lighting
- Bright light, glare or very dim light
- Reading for hours on end
- Continually staring at a digital screen
- Improper distance when viewing a digital screen
- Driving for long stretches of time
- An eye disorder that has not been diagnosed
- Improper eye protection when outdoors
Eye strain may also be caused by underlying eye issues such as astigmatism or uncorrected vision which can be diagnosed by visiting your optometrist for an eye exam.
When your eye's cornea (front surface) is not curved properly it can lead to blurred vision and as your eyes try to adjust and compensate it can cause eye strain and fatigue. An eye exam can help to rule out astigmatism or any other conditions that may be causing your eye problems. If you do have astigmatism it can easily be corrected with glasses (or contact lenses).
Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)
Yes, sadly this is a real condition. Research has demonstrated that " between 50% and 90% of people who work at a computer screen have at least some symptoms," making computer use or the use of digital devices one of the most common causes of eye strain today.
Do you stay up late binge-watching videos on your phone while under the covers?
Emitted by digital devices such as your smart phone, blue light or HEV (high-energy visible light) could potentially lead to serious conditions such as age-related macular degeneration that can even cause blindness. Blue Light is also known to suppress melatonin, an important sleep-inducing hormone, which makes it harder to fall asleep. Not getting good quality sleep or staying up late browsing your iPad can contribute to eye strain (especially if you've also been on a computer working during the daytime).
When glare enters the eye it is pointless feedback for the eye and can cause the eye unnecessary stress leading to eye strain and even headaches. Apart from a digital screen, glare can also be caused by other factors such as the bright light emitted from car headlights from oncoming traffic at night time.
Improper viewing distance
Viewing digital devices up close can be highly detrimental for kids and adults alike. Our eyes were never designed to stare at objects up close for long periods of time. In fact adjusting to close proximity requires the ciliary muscle in the eye to spasm back and forth leading to eye strain, blurred vision and even headaches. Research shows that a recommended viewing distance of 50cm to 70cm should be maintained to "reduce visual fatigue."
Reduced blink rate
Most people tend to blink less often when sitting at a machine, making the eyes dry and fatigued. Research has shown that "CVS symptoms are associated with a reduced blink rate," and that "the completeness of the blink may be equally significant." Often when we're so engrossed in what we are doing we naturally blink less. This causes the eyes to dry out, causing redness and itchiness. Blinking fully and more often is important to alleviate CVS symptoms.
Posture and device position
Remember when your mom used to tell you to sit up straight? Well, there is truth to that and its incredibly important in this day and age. Hunching over your desk, smart phone or tablet all day, every day, will not only lead to eye strain, but can also cause neck, shoulder and back pain. Posture and proper positioning of your computer is critical to eliminating fatigue and long-term chronic pain.
Eye Strain Symptoms
Now that we've explored some of the major causes of eye strain, let's take a closer look at some of the main grievances people have when suffering from eye strain.
Here's a list of some of the most common complaints:
- Dryness, itchiness, irritation
- Eye fatigue and heaviness
- Blurry vision
- Double vision
- Heightened sensitivity to light
- Neck, shoulder and back pain
Dryness, itchiness, irritation
Are you suffering from dry or watery eyes? Do your eyes get red from an uncontrollable urge to itch? Sounds like a classic case of dry eye.
Dry eye is by far one of the most common eye strain symptoms. It is caused when your eyes have less moisture and are less lubricated. When the eyes make less tears, this causes inflammation leading to itchiness and irritation, which can be quite straining on the eye.
Dry eye symptoms are usually caused by the continuous use of smartphones, laptops and other digital devices. Staring at the screen for long periods of time without blinking causes the eye to dry out. Dry eye can also be caused by stress-induced oxidation which happens as you age.
The most common over-the-counter remedy for dry eye are artificial tears which help by adding a layer of moisture on the eyes.
Certain supplements like natural astaxanthin, have also shown promising potential to decrease dry eye symptoms, improve blurry vision and also alleviate eye fatigue.
Eye fatigue and heaviness
Ever had the feeling that your eyes are getting heavy and that you just can't keep your eyes open? That intense heaviness may be due to eye fatigue caused by overworked and overtired eyes.
Eye fatigue can be caused by lack of sleep, working and straining your eyes on an activity for a long period of time, and is by far one of the leading causes of eye strain.
Think of the times when you've worked diligently for hours building a model airplane with your son, been in the hospital for a 20-hour shift, or simply read a book on your smartphone till 3am.
Just like the body feels tired and exhausted, so do your eyes. If they don't get their rest, you can expect eye heaviness and fatigue.
Seeing things out of focus? When your vision gets hazy and objects start to appear blurry it should be a cause of concern. Without treatment, blurry vision can cause strain on the eye as you try to squint to get a better picture.
The most common reason for blurry vision are refractive errors such as astigmatism (mentioned above), and near or farsightedness.
Nearsightedness and farsightedness are two sides of a coin. If you're nearsighted you have no problem reading or seeing things up close, but will have trouble recognizing a face in the distance or reading a road sign.
If you're farsighted you probably can't read a word without putting your reading glasses on but seem to have no trouble driving. Blurry vision can also be caused by staring at a screen for too long. Think back to working on your computer for long hours to do your taxes, and having to rub your eyes.
If your eyes are strained from untreated vision issues or long hours of working, you may experience blurry vision.
Double vision or diplopia is when you see twin images of the same object. Usually associated with issues in the cornea, lens, nerves or eye muscles, double vision can also be caused by computer vision syndrome and the eye fatigue and strain associated with it.
A 2002 study published in Japan revealed that an intake of 5mg of natural astaxanthin for 30 days, derived from haematococcus pluvialis algae, can help to relieve eye strain, blurry vision and double vision (diplopia) by up to 46%, and can help promote higher accommodation (greater eye focus) in visual display terminal workers.
Sensitivity to light
Does turning on a light or stepping out into the sun cause you to squint or close your eyes? If your eyes are strained you may experience extra sensitivity to sunlight and even indoor lighting such as fluorescent, CFL and incandescent light.
An article published in the American Journal of Public health revealed that, "exposure to both traditional fluorescent lights and CFLs can increase your eye disease risk because fluorescent lights produce an artificial source of ultraviolet (UV) light."
Continuous exposure, which is common amongst office workers, causes eye strain, headaches sore, dry eyes and sensitivity to light.
Headaches, neck and back pain
Do you sit in front of a screen all day? If you're plagued with frequent headaches, heaviness in your shoulders, and neck and back pain, eye strain may be the culprit.
Prolonged exposure to bright or dim light, glare, minimal blinking and making an effort to focus as you work long hours can cause the muscles in the face and the head to clench and tighten, causing headaches and pain that radiates down the neck, shoulders and back. These symptoms can further be triggered by stress and poor sleep hygiene.
Please note however that migraine or tension headaches, especially those associated with nausea and vomiting may not be due to eye strain. Eye strain headaches are mainly caused due to long hours of computer work, reading, embroidery, and tasks that require you to use your eyes for a long period of time.
Ways to Prevent Eye Strain
Now that we've looked at the causes and symptoms of eye strain, let's discuss what you can do to prevent eye fatigue, by keeping your eye strain symptoms under control.
Yearly eye exam
The first step you should take to prevent eye strain symptoms is to take a yearly eye exam. The American Optometric Association recommends an annual eye exam for everyone who wears glasses and contacts, to monitor for any vision changes.
If you don't wear glasses, and feel you can see just fine, you should still get an eye exam once every 2 years. Why? Because eye problems like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration can only be detected in a comprehensive eye exam, and if you catch these early you can prevent a lot of eye strain issues and other complications going forward. You may also decide to take eye supplements that will help to boost your vision and prevent degenerative eye diseases.
Pay attention to lighting and glare
Bright light, dim light and glare, can lead to eye strain. Natural light is great but when you're working on a computer too much sun coming in from a window can cause your eyes to squint and strain. Same goes for excessive lighting indoors which can seem a bit too harsh.
Try to position your computer so that you're not sitting directly in front of or behind a window. Reflections on your screen can cause glare which can be very straining to the eyes. Use blinds or blackout curtains to eliminate strong outdoor light, and consider mounting an anti-glare screen on your monitor.
For interior lighting use low-level and glare-free ambient lights when possible, as sitting under bright fluorescent lighting can often be too harsh on the eyes and increase eye strain. Use task lighting on your desk for going through paperwork, so you won't need as much overhead lighting when working on your computer.
Adjust screen brightness
Adjust the brightness and contrast levels of your computer screen and other digital devices to reduce eye strain. A good rule of thumb is to open up a blank, white page on your screen and hold up a blank sheet of white paper against it.
Try to match the colors as closely as possible. For example, if the white on your screen is too grey, the display light is a bit too dim and you need to brighten it a bit.
(Image source: Eizo.com)
Also, keep in mind that any flickering in your screen (caused by certain dimming mechanisms), can lead to eye fatigue. If you notice any flickering in your screen and it's bothering you, take measures to see if the issue can be fixed.
Wear blue light blocking glasses
Let's face it, we're literally surrounded by blue light and there's no escaping it. According to The Vision Council, out of the 80% of adult Americans that use digital devices for 2+ hours daily, a whopping 59% experience "symptoms of digital eye strain."
Blue light is actually found in sunlight and is not actually a bad thing. During the day it helps us to stay alert and boost mood. However, today we are engulfed in artificial blue light, especially at night time when we don't need it, and we need to get into rest mode. Overexposure from digital devices and indoor lighting can actually suppress melatonin, the hormone that helps us to sleep. The strain of staring at a screen and not getting enough sleep, day after day, is enough to give you eye strain symptoms.
A 2009 study showed that participants who used blue-light blocking glasses 3 hours before bedtime were able to improve both mood and sleep quality. If you're working on a computer all day and glued to your devices after work, make sure to get a pair of these to limit eye strain.
Most smartphones today also come with a blue light filter(Night Shift on iPhone), turn this on at night time for added protection.
When turned on the display light on the left becomes much warmer, compared with the stark bluish light on the right.
Take frequent breaks
Imagine working out for hours on end without a break? You'd be exhausted right. The same goes for your eyes. Sometimes we take our eyes for granted, until we are bothered by eye strain symptoms such as dry eyes, blurry vision and tired sore eyes.
Just like the body, you need to be mindful about giving your eyes a break, and relaxing your eye muscles. A good way to do this is by following the 20-20-20 rule.
"Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds."
(Image source: Juststand.org)
This could be looking out the window, the furthest into the horizon as you possibly can, or the furthest wall in the room.
Blink, breathe and break
A method developed by vision ergonomics specialist, Dr. Jeff Anshell, the "Three B" approach teaches to "Blink, Breathe and Break." In this video below, Dr. Anshell states that studies have shown that we blink at one-third our normal blink rate when we stare at computer screens.
He continues with how breathing mindfully is important to staying productive and concludes with the 20-20-20 rule mentioned above. Aired in 2009, but still worth a watch!
Environmental factors such as dry indoor air can also lead to drying out your eyes faster. To combat this, every 20 minutes blink 10 times slowly as if you are drifting off to sleep, this will help to re-moisturize your eyes.
Maintain proper screen distance
According to the American Optometric Association, "the computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level (about 4 or 5 inches) as measured from the center of the screen and 20 to 28 inches from the eyes."
This basically means that you should ideally be able to comfortably read all text and keep your head and back in an upright posture position. The viewing angle of 4-5 inches below eye level from the center of your screen, is also important to keep in mind.
See the image below to maintain ideal posture, viewing angle, and screen distance to prevent eye strain:
(Image source: Aoa.org)
Be cautious while driving
It goes without saying that your eyes are the most important sense you use when driving. That said, driving in varied conditions day in and day out can cause eye strain symptoms, and you may not even realize it.
Think about it, when driving, your eyes have to battle various factors such as bright headlights, the sun glaring at your windshield, foggy conditions, all while focusing on fast-moving objects.
Even though you eyes are continuously in motion behind the wheel, there are a few things you can do to help prevent eye strain. Firstly make sure to wear protective eye gear, preferably polarized or no-glare lenses with UV protection. You can even choose to get these options if you wear prescription eye wear.
Next, remember to take breaks. This is critical when driving long distances to not only decrease eye fatigue but to stay safe.
Try glasses if you wear contacts
Do you wear contact lenses? They could be to blame for your eye strain symptoms. Contact lenses may cause friction which can lead to irritation, especially if your eyes are not well lubricated to begin with.
For example, if you live in a dry, windy climate or are exposed to dry air in your office, your lenses can also become dry and stick to your eyelid as you try to blink. This can be very discomforting and can lead to dry, watery eyes with burning and redness.
You can combat this situation by using over-the-counter eye lubricants to add moisture, and mindfully blink more and rest your eyes, however if the issue persists trading in your contacts for a trendy pair of glasses may be your best bet. Plus you can benefit from adding anti-reflective coating and blue-light blocking lenses, if you're sitting on a computer all day.
Exercise eye muscles and refocus
If you're a hard studier or avid reader, you may have to deal with sore, tired eyes daily. Whenever you do close-up work such as reading small print or sewing, your eye muscles contract to focus.
Shifting this focus by looking into the distance helps to relax this muscle and relieve the strain. Therefore, it's very important to take breaks and look into the distance every 20-30 minutes to relax your eye muscles.
Also, just like you need to exercise to keep your body in shape, the same goes for your eyes.
Here are two simple eye exercises you can do at home:
1. Hold out your thumb in front of you at arm's length and rotate it in circles, following the movement with your eyes.
2. Next draw Xs in the air and repeat. Gradually bring your thumb closer and move it further away again as you do this.
Eye exercises like these help to counteract eyestrain damage and improve brain-nerve coordination for improved vision.
The next time your eyes feel tired, you can also try this quick 1-minute exercise as demonstrated below:
Make lifestyle changes
You may not like to hear it, but if your eye strain symptoms are really interfering with your ability to work and play, then it's time to make some lifestyle changes.
Whether it's getting more sleep, working fewer hours on the laptop or improving poor nutrition habits, you'll need to do what it takes to get one of THE most important senses in your body working optimally.
Start by making changes such as taking a warm shower and doing some relaxing meditation before sleeping rather than falling asleep to the television.
Instead of keeping a water bottle on your desk, walk and grab a glass a water, every time you're thirsty. This will force you to refocus on something else and relax your eye muscles. Switch your contacts for anti-glare glasses.
Take protective eye supplements and get the antioxidants you need to support eye health. All this can go a long way to protect your eyes and alleviate eye strain.
Take supplements to support healthy vision
Eye supplements are important as they contain therapeutic levels of antioxidants that you can't get from your diet.
For example, resveratrol is a potent anti-oxidant that has anti-inflammatory properties and can prevent oxidative stress and prevent the "progression of age-related ocular diseases (glaucoma, cataract, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration) that lead to progressive loss of vision and blindness."
Vitamins such as Vitamin B complex, D and E, are good for lowering the risk of macular degeneration.
Astaxanthin is a super powerful antioxidant and can help combat eye strain symptoms by providing an added layer of protection to fight eye fatigue, blurred vision, glaucoma, cataract and prevent age-related macular degeneration.
Discover 15+ Amazing Health Benefits of Astaxanthin for Eyes and Beyond.
Pumpkin seed oil is another brilliant supplement, rich in zeaxanthin, which helps to protect the retina. Research conducted in 2003 stated that zeaxanthin "may be far more important in preventing or stabilizing macular degeneration than previously realized."
According to the American Optometric Association, Pumpkin also contains Vitamins A, C and E, including zinc and lutien, making it a super food and must have beneficial supplement to protect against eye strain and support vision health.
At GoodLife Provision discover 15 potent supplements that can support vision health and more, and find the one that's right for you!
- If you are experiencing dry eyes, headaches, blurry vision, and neck or shoulder pain, you may be suffering from eye strain and fatigue
- Eye strain can be caused by poor lighting, glare, long-distance driving, improper eye protection and even stress
- The leading cause of eye strain today, computer vision syndrome (CVS), is caused by staring at a digital screen for long periods of time
- It's important to note that 90% of eye problems caused by digital eye strain are preventable
- Getting an eye exam, working under proper lighting, maintaining a comfortable screen distance and practicing taking breaks to rest your eyes are all important in alleviating eye strain
- To control and offset the damage caused by eye strain, making lifestyle changes and supplementing with potent nutrients that support long-term vision care is highly recommended