With increased screen time and busy schedules, it’s no surprise many of us suffer from a condition known as eye strain.
"Eye strain" generally refers to discomfort, blurred vision, and other bothersome symptoms that occur due to extended use of the eyes.
So how do I know if I suffer from eye strain?
Common Signs & Symptoms
Eye strain can lead to headaches and muscle tension or tightness extending into the neck, shoulders, or upper back.
Extended periods of driving or computer use often result in distorted, blurred vision or a difficulty focusing.
Dry, Tired Eyes
Eye strain is often described as tired eyes, dryness, itchiness, and sensitivity. Your eyes may also appear red and watery.
Extended Use of Your Eyes & Refractive Errors Cause Eye Strain
Anyone who actively uses their eyes for long periods of time in order to drive, use a computer, or scroll through apps on their phone, is at risk. Performing these activities in very bright or dim light can also make symptoms worse. But unlike what your mother might have told you, eye strain is a temporary and harmless condition.
Stress, fatigue, and poor posture can contribute to eye strain. Windy conditions or exposure to fans, heating, and air conditioning systems are also contributors.
Most importantly, tiredness, blurring, and other symptoms may indicate undiagnosed nearsightedness or farsightedness, or another condition such as dry eye.
Why Does Eye Strain Occur?
Blinking naturally moistens the eyes. But tasks such as driving and looking at digital devices decrease how often we blink. In fact, computer use has been found to reduce blink rate by up to 80 percent.
When screens or other objects are at less-than-ideal angles, or too near or too far away, our eyes have to work overtime. Failing to rest the eyes by varying your focus distance can also contribute to eye strain.
Poor Image Quality
Another major factor that tires the eyes is how easily you can view something clearly. Glare on a screen or poor contrast between text on a website and the color of the background, for example, naturally lead to increased strain over time.
“Although eye strain can be annoying, it usually is not serious and goes away once you rest your eyes. But in cases where sufferers really do need glasses, or have a treatable condition such as dry eye syndrome, visiting a medical professional is necessary." Andrew A. Dahl, Board-Certified Ophthalmologist
You Can Improve Eye Strain With Several Simple Steps
Limit Screen Time
Since computers, tablets, and phones are major culprits, set a limit on how many hours you use these devices throughout the day.
Rest Your Eyes
Many of us obviously need to spend at least eight hours a day on the computer. Set reminders and make the 20-20-20 rule a habit. For every 20 minutes of screen time, spend at least 20 seconds looking at something 20 or more feet away.
Keep Eyes Lubricated
Avoid sitting in the direct line of a fan, AC vent, or other appliances that physically dry your eyes. Keep wetting drops handy to use, as needed, throughout the day.
Diagnosing Eye Strain
Diagnosing eye strain is generally as simple as discussing your symptoms, occupation, and other lifestyle factors with your eye doctor.
Blurred vision is a symptom of eyestrain, but it can also mean you need glasses.
In order to rule out a refractive error, you may be asked to undergo a visual acuity test. This non-invasive screening method involves looking at eye charts, both near and far, and reading lines of text or individual letters out loud.
Treatment is Rarely Needed
Medical treatment is only necessary if you have an underlying cause of eye strain. Otherwise, resting your eyes and being more mindful of harmful habits are measures you can take starting today. Stock up on lubricating eye drops, minimize environmental irritants, set your phone timer to remember to take breaks, and remember: just put the phone down already!
A Eye Exam Is Still Recommended
Undiagnosed refractive errors and untreated dry eye can have damaging and even dangerous effects. To rule out these causes of eye strain, schedule an exam with your eye doctor today.