Eye Strain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Do your eyes ever burn, itch, or feel tired at the end of the day? Does the pain in your eyes ever lead to headaches? Does it ever prevent you from working, driving, or going outside? If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, you might be suffering from eye strain.

What Is Eye Strain?

Eye strain, or asthenopia, occurs when the eyes become tired and fatigued after intense use. This condition is rarely serious, but it is annoying and can keep you from doing your regular activities.


What Causes Eye Strain?
Most people who experience eye strain do so after they’ve put a lot of pressure on their eyes for an extended period of time. Common causes of eye strain include:


Looking at a computer screen or electronic device for several hours

Extensive driving, especially when it is sunny

Reading or writing for an extended period

Straining to see and focus in dim light

Prolonged exposure to bright light or glare

Infrequent or insufficient blinking

Sleep deprivation

Underlying conditions, such as an eye muscle imbalance or uncorrected vision, can also cause eye strain.


What Are the Symptoms of Eye Strain?
Eye strain derives its name from its most common symptom: eye strain. If you find yourself straining your eyes to see everything, you are probably suffering from eye strain. Other symptoms of eye strain include:

  • Sore, tired eyes
  • Pain and tenderness in and around the eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Itchy, burning eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Sore neck, shoulders, and back
  • Light sensitivity
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty focusing and decreased productivity
  • Sleep deprivation often intensifies these symptoms, as your eyes replenish themselves while you sleep.


How Can I Treat and Prevent Eye Strain?
Although eye strain is inconvenient and can cause severe discomfort, it is usually easy to treat and prevent. The best way to alleviate your eye strain is to make a few minor changes to your habits and environment. We’ve outlined a few of our recommendations below.


Changes to Your Environment
If you notice yourself straining only at the office, take steps to make your work environment a little more eye-friendly.


  • Change the lighting near your desk to reduce reflections and glare.
  • Replace your existing chair with a more supportive chair. Your chair should support your back and allow you to sit upright.
  • Pay attention to the humidity in your office. Do your eyes dry out or tear up while you work? If they become dry, buy a humidifier to keep your eyes moisturized. If it’s too humid, buy a dehumidifier.


Changes to Your Computer Screen

If your work involves frequent use of a computer, chances are your monitor is contributing to your eye strain.


  • Make sure you sit 50–65 centimetres (20–26 inches) away from your computer screen. Keep your screen just below eye level.
  • Clean your screen on a regular basis. Dust and smudges tend to reduce contrast and increase glare, causing your eyes to strain.
  • Place a glare filter on your screen if you can’t change the lighting near your desk.
  • Change your screen’s display settings to match the brightness of the lighting in your office.
  • Reduce the colour temperature of your monitor to emit less blue light. Blue light is known to cause eye strain more than other colours of light.


Change to Your Work Habits
Whether you work in an office or drive trucks for a living, you can make a few changes to your habits to alleviate the strain on your eyes.


  • Give your eyes regular breaks. Try using the 20-20-20 rule to keep your eyes from straining and becoming tired. Every20 minutes, look away from whatever you’re looking at and focus on something 6 metres (20 feet) away for 20seconds.
  • Blink more often. Blinking helps keep your eyes moisturized, which reduces eye strain.
  • Take breaks from your work. Stand up and walk around every hour or so to recharge your eyes and regain your concentration.


Changes to Your Eye Care Routine
Thanks to television, smartphones, and bright lights, your eyes can become strained even when you’re not at work. Make these changes to your routine to reduce eye strain:

  • Practice relaxation. Because your eyes are in constant use, they often experience a lot of tension. Alleviate this tension by resting and relaxing your eyes on a daily basis.
  • Massage your eyelids, temples, upper cheeks, and muscles over your eyebrows twice a day to relieve built up tension.
  • Use artificial tears to moisturize your eyes when they feel dry.
  • Sleep more. Adults need seven hours of sleep each night. If you get less than seven hours, try taking a nap during the day to give your eyes more time to rest and relax.


When Should I See a Doctor?
As mentioned above, eye strain is generally easily treatable and preventable. In rare cases, however, it could be a symptom of a more serious eye problem. Contact your optometrist right away if you experience any of the following symptoms:


  • Severe eye discomfort, such as itchiness, redness, and sensitivity
  • Persistent headaches
  • Noticeable changes in vision
  • Double vision


You should also call your optometrist if your eye strain persists after you’ve tried the treatment methods above. You only get one set of eyes, so you don’t want to subject them to too much pain and pressure.

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