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Eye Strain: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

by Eric Gathoni

Eye Strain: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Asthenopia, more commonly known as eye strain, is a condition that manifests as discomfort or even pain in and around the eyes.

This unsettling feeling typically results from intense, prolonged use of the eyes - be it reading, writing, driving for long stretches, or gazing at digital screens (computers, smartphones, etc.) without intervals of rest.

In today's digital world, eye strain has become commonplace, affecting virtually anyone undertaking these activities for extended periods.

Identifying Eye Strain: Recognisable Symptoms

The symptoms of eye strain can be as varied as they are discomforting:

  • Exhausted, sore, burning, or itching eyes: After protracted periods of reading or working on a computer and activities that require focus, it's not uncommon to experience tired or sore eyes.
  • Eyes that are overly watery or excessively dry: Either condition can be a potential symptom of eye strain.
  • Blurred or double vision: This particularly unsettling symptom causes difficulty concentrating on images or texts.
  • Headaches: Headaches caused by eye strain usually localise around the eyes, temples, or forehead.
  • Light sensitivity: Experiencing discomfort from bright light or needing more light than usual for reading or close work could be a sign of eye strain.
  • Difficulty concentrating: The discomfort or difficulty focusing vision associated with eye strain can impede concentration, especially on visually intensive tasks.
  • Increased discomfort after work: Symptoms of eye strain often intensify after prolonged, uninterrupted periods of intense focus.
  • You have an irresistible urge to close your eyes.

Woman using a mobile phone in the dark

Triggers for Eye Strain: Common Causes

A variety of factors attributed to eye strain:

  • Digital screen usage: Referred to as computer vision syndrome or digital eye strain, spending extended periods staring at digital screens like computers, smartphones, tablets, or e-readers can trigger eye strain.
  • Reading: Reading for extended periods, especially in poor light, puts considerable strain on your eyes.
  • Strabismus or amblyopia: These eye conditions involving misalignment or lazy eyes can precipitate eye strain when both eyes aren't functioning synergistically.
  • Dry eye syndrome: Characterised by insufficient tear production or rapid tear evaporation, this condition can render routine activities like reading uncomfortable and induce eye strain.
  • Lighting: Exposure to excessive brightness or enduring a dimly lit environment for an extended period can cause eye strain.
  • Driving: Long-distance driving, particularly at night, can cause your eyes to become weary and strained.
  • Refractive errors: Vision problems like myopia (nearsightedness), hypermetropia (farsightedness), astigmatism, and presbyopia can lead to eye strain if not corrected with glasses or contact lenses.
  • Uncorrected vision: If you need vision correction and aren't using the necessary glasses or contacts, your eyes might overexert to compensate, causing eye strain.
  • Age: As we age, our eyes' lenses lose flexibility, making tasks like reading more challenging and potentially leading to eye strain.

Regular breaks from visually intensive tasks, ensuring that your glasses or contact lens prescription is current and optimising your environment with appropriate lighting and screen positioning can reduce eye strain.

If symptoms persist, it's crucial to consult an eye care professional to identify underlying issues and suggest suitable treatments.

Countering Eye Strain: Treatments & Preventive Measures

Here are some widely recommended treatments and preventive strategies for eye strain:

  • The 20-20-20 Rule: After every 20 minutes of screen time, shift your gaze to something 20 feet away for 20 seconds, giving your eyes a much-needed break from close-up focus and reducing eye strain.
  • Workspace Optimisation: Position your computer screen so it's about 20 to 24 inches from your eyes, with the centre of your screen about 10 to 15 degrees below your eye line, ensuring comfortable head and neck positioning. A document holder at the same level as your screen can further aid this.
  • Glare Reduction: Minimising screen glare with an anti-glare screen or a matte screen filter can also help.
  • Appropriate Lighting: Reduce harsh contrasts and glaring brightness with softer lighting. A desk lamp shining downwards is a good option, and if possible, avoid overhead fluorescent lights.
  • Regular Blinking: Reduce the likelihood of dryness and irritation by blinking your eyes to moisturise them.
  • Regular Eye Exams: Regular eye exams are paramount to ensure that your glasses or contacts prescription is up-to-date.
  • Eye Exercises: Regular eye exercises can help alleviate strain. Techniques might include eye rolling, focusing at different distances, and adjusting to various light levels.
  • Adequate Sleep: Quality sleep is essential for overall eye health. Most adults require about 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
  • Hydration: Drink ample water to avert dehydration, which can cause dry eyes and eye strain.
  • Eye Drops: Over-the-counter artificial tears can help prevent and reduce the dryness that leads to eye strain.
  • Computer or blue-light blocking glasses: Specially designed lenses increase contrast and filter out blue light from digital screens that can cause eye strain.

Knowing When to Seek Professional Help: The Optica Way

Although eye strain is commonly temporary and tends to dissipate once you rest your eyes, it's crucial not to ignore persistent or worsening symptoms. If your discomfort continues despite trying the above strategies, it's time to seek professional help.

At Optica, we believe in providing a comprehensive approach to your eye health. When you visit us for a consultation, our experienced optometrists will evaluate the source of your eye strain with a thorough examination, including understanding your symptoms, lifestyle, work habits, and overall health.

Our professionals might perform various tests to assess your vision and eye health, such as a refraction assessment to identify any refractive error and a dry eye evaluation. If you already wear glasses or contact lenses, we will check whether your current prescription is correct and up-to-date.

We'll provide a personalised treatment based on these findings, that range from a new eyeglass prescription to the recommendation of specific eye exercises, lifestyle modifications, or, in some cases, referral to another eye health specialist for further investigation.

Remember, enduring eye discomfort is not necessary nor advisable. Eye strain can signal that your eyes need professional attention.
Let the dedicated team at Optica be your guide towards a more comfortable and clearer vision. With us, your eyes are in the best possible hands.

Book a free eye test with Optica today. We're committed to helping our clients enjoy the beauty of the world around them, free from discomfort from eye strain.