Eye strain is a group of non-specific symptoms people experience as a result of using the eyes intensely or for prolonged periods. It is medically known as asthenopia.
It is usually associated with tiredness and tends to occur during or after reading, driving, using the computer and other digital devices, or after watching television.
Eye strain can cause significant discomfort and may be of serious concern to you if you experience it, but, it does not cause any permanent damage to the eyes. However, due to the discomfort it causes, it can make it difficult for you to concentrate.
Therefore, it is necessary to as much as possible prevent or reduce it by identifying its causes and triggers and taking the right steps to eliminate or correct them.
Symptoms of Eyestrain
Common symptoms of eyestrain include:
- Burning or itchy eyes
- Tired eyes
- Eye pain
- Slightly red eyes
- Dry or watery eyes
- Blurry or double vision
- Increased sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- Neck, shoulder, or backache
- General discomfort or inability to concentrate
Causes of Eyestrain
Somes causes of eyestrain include
Extra demands on the eyes by computers and other digital devices
Due to the rising digitization of work, school, and human life in general, the use of digital devices has become the most common cause of eyestrain.
The eyes generally do more work when you are working with your computer or other digital devices than when you are working with papers. They move back and forth, adjust to changes on the screen as it is scrolled up and down, and also tries to cope with the glare and flashes from the screen. These extra demands on the eyes strain them. This often gets worse if other factors such as eye problems and unfavourable digital habits and environmental conditions are present.
Eyestrain due to computer use is often referred to as digital eyestrain or computer vision syndrome.
Staring at digital devices for a prolonged period
While using digital devices, people tend to stare. This reduces the rate at which they blink. Blinking is essential for keeping the eyes lubricated and comfortable, but when it is reduced, the surface of the eyes dry out. Dry eye causes discomfort and can result in eyestrain.
Presence of eye problems
Eyestrain can occur as a result of underlying eye problems. Examples of these eye problems are:
- Refractive errors: These are eye conditions that are caused by the inability of the eyes to focus objects properly on the retina. They include myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism. To see better, people who have refractive errors may squint and adopt awkward positions unconsciously. Squinting and staying in awkward positions can stress the muscles of the eyes, face, neck, shoulders, and back, leading to eye strain.
- Binocular vision problems: These are eye problems that occur as a result of the inability of the two eyes to work together. They put a lot of strain on the eyes as people who have them try to avoid double vision.
- Dry eye syndrome: This is a condition in which the eyes are unable to produce adequate tears or the tears produced evaporate quickly. It causes eye discomfort to results in eye strain.
Unfavourable environmental conditions
Environmental conditions that can cause or worsen eyestrain include:
- Inappropriate positioning of workstation: Placing the screen at a wrong distance (too far or too near) or viewing it from an inappropriate angle due to the height of the table or chair can cause discomfort, fatigue, and neck, shoulder, or back pain.
- Poor room lighting and reflections from the screen: Bright overhead lights and sunlight from the windows, for instance, can reflect on the screen causing glare and discomfort to computer users.
- Excessive wind or dry environment: Being in a windy environment or having air from the AC vent or fans blowing directly on the face causes the surface of the eyes to dry out quickly and this can cause eye strain.
Management of Eyestrain
Proper management of eye strain requires identifying the root cause and taking care of it. At first, try and adopt good digital device use habits and eliminate or reduce environmental causes. If your symptoms persist, visit the clinic for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Here are ways you can manage eyestrain:
Adopt good digital device use habits
- Blink consciously: Blinking is often a reflex action, but since there is a tendency for people to stare while using digital devices it is necessary to make effort to blink consciously. You should blink at least 12 to 15 times in a minute to keep your eyes well lubricated and comfortable.
- Take breaks: Applying the 20:20:20 rule is a good way to take breaks in between digital device use. The rule recommends that while using your digital devices, you should take your eyes off your screen every 20 minutes and look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. In addition to that, you should get up from your seat every one hour and walk about for about 5 minutes. This will help rest your eyes, stretch your muscles and prevent/reduce eyestrain.
- Adopt the right posture: Sit up while using your laptop. Do not lie down on the bed or place your laptop on your lap. It makes you slouch and this can cause eye strain
Set up your computer and environment for comfort
- Arrange your work area properly: This will help you maintain the right posture while working at your desk. Ensure that your desk and chair are comfortable and of appropriate height (not too high or too low), such that your feet are flat on the floor while seated. The computer screen should be positioned in such a way that the eyes look downwards at it from a comfortable distance (usually about 50 – 100cm for most people). The screen should be positioned away from light reflections to avoid glare. If you are looking at a print material while typing, place it above the level of the keyboard and below the monitor. You can place it beside the monitor using a document holder. This limits head and eye movement from the document to the screen and can reduce eye strain.
- Avoid light reflections on your screen: This will prevent glare and reduce eyestrain. To do this, position your workstation in a way that the room light does not reflect on your screen. Cover the windows with blinds to eliminate sunlight and other exterior light reflections. You can also place antiglare screens in front of your computer screen especially in situations where the reflection from light sources cannot be controlled.
- Adjust your computer screen settings: Adjust your computer display size and brightness to levels that allow you to look at your screen comfortably.
- Do not let air blow directly on your face: Direct AC vents away from your face. Use standing fans in place of ceiling fans and keep them rotating.
Get underlying eye problem diagnosed and treated
If you have applied the above-mentioned tips and you still experience eyestrain, then, you may have an underlying eye problem. See the eye doctor for a comprehensive eye examination, accurate diagnosis, and proper treatment. Depending on the diagnosis, eyeglasses, contact lenses, eye drops or vision therapy may be recommended.