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Eye strain: When should you worry?

All over the world, eye strain (also called asthenopia) is one of […]

By Published On: 3 March 20174.3 min read

All over the world, eye strain (also called asthenopia) is one of the most common problems associated with the human eye. It occurs in people of all ages and races, male and female alike.

Although it is widely mistaken for an eye disease, it is a group of symptoms rather than a disease. Perhaps, it is nature’s way of telling the eyes to have some rest. While most eye strain is self-resolving once you stop over-using your eyes, there are some instances where medical investigation is important.

Quick Facts About Eye Strain

The human eye is an amazing organ. Consider the following facts:

  • Although prolonged exposure to bright light can result in eye strain, there is no known permanent eye damage associated to it.
  • Even without medication, most instances of eye strain will resolve as long as the cause of the condition is eliminated.

Visit your optometrist if the symptoms persist, as they will help you find the source of the problem and advise you how to manage it.  Your optometrist can also determine if your symptoms have a more sinister underlying cause.

What is Eye Strain or Asthenopia?

Reports show that between 50 and 90 per cent of people who spend several hours a day in front of screens stand the chance of developing eye strain. That’s most of us, right? Since we spend several hours a day staring into digital devices such as phones, tablets, televisions and laptops, it is no surprise that eye strain is on the rise.

As humans, we use our eyes every day for one activity or the other. The eyes only rest when we sleep, and sometime, this rest is not enough. Regular use of the eyes in focusing on objects, plus excessive exposure to light, can cause the eye muscles to become fatigued. This stress of the eye muscles due to overuse or uncontrolled exposure to various light sources is known as eye strain.

Eye Strain Symptoms

It is very important to understand the signs and symptoms of eye strain because they are similar to those of many eye diseases. These symptoms do not necessarily make eye strain a disease.

  • Fatigue of the eyes and generally feeling sleepy at work
  • Burning sensation of the eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Glare
  • Difficulty in keeping the eyes open
  • Difficulty in focusing
  • Excessive blinking due to pain or discomfort
  • Watery eyes
  • Soreness of the neck
  • Decreased blink-rate
  • Headache

Causes of Eye Strain

The human eye is equipped to see in a huge range of lighting conditions – from a sunny day on a beach to a bedroom at night. Dark adaptation as well as a change in pupil size allow this comfortable range of vision. The problem occurs when the eyes have to deal with light and dark together, such as a bright screen in a dark room, or a bright window in an office. For this reason, take care to avoid high contrast or brightness on digital screens.

Other causes include overusing the eyes without resting them, or exposing them to too much light over a prolonged period of time. Some of the activities that can result in eye strain include:

  • Reading in dim light
  • Reading texts written in very small fonts
  • Trying to read without your prescribed glasses
  • Driving for a long period of time without resting
  • Prolonged staring at the screens of digital devices like laptops, tablets, smart phones, televisions etc
  • High contrast or brightness on digital screens

Why Should You Take Eye Strain Seriously?

For most people, no organ of sense is more important than the one which allows us to see. If your eye strain symptoms persist even when the eyes are no longer doing intense visual tasks, you should see your optometrist for investigation. There are many symptoms in common with other, more serious eye conditions such as:

  • Benign or malignant tumours of the eyes or brain
  • Optic neuritis
  • Muscle imbalance between the eyes (which may require glasses)
  • Dry eyes
  • Uncorrected long-sightedness or astigmatism
  • Irlen syndrome (or visual stress), where text seems to move or vibrate
  • Other eye diseases

If your eye strain is causing headaches or if it does not resolve when you reduce the visual load, always see your optometrist. You may need glasses, a referral to an ophthalmologist or investigation into visual stress.

What do you need to do?

The fact is everybody experiences eye strain at one point or the other in their lives. The more closely you work with digital devices, especially with back-lit screens, the more likely you are to experience eye strain.

If you are a computer operator, driver, typist, blogger, student, TV addict or video gamer, you are likely to experience this condition more often; if your job or daily activities do not require prolonged focus of the eyes, you are not as likely to develop it.

By adopting healthy eye practices, the incidence of eye strain can be reduced, no matter the stress the eyes are under on daily basis.

If you continuously experience eye strain symptoms, call The Eye Practice on (02) 9290 1899.  Or make an appointment online today. We succeed where others fail.



  1. Sandesh Adhikari 7 May 2021 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    I cant look downward, upward, right, left, it pains me alot.

    • Jim Kokkinakis 11 May 2021 at 4:31 pm - Reply

      This needs investigating. It could be sinus problems but it could also be something more serious.

  2. Lola 5 June 2021 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    I feel discomfort in my right eye when I roll my eyes counterclockwise. Kind of like there is something pulling my eye making it resistant to moving counterclockwise.

    • Jim Kokkinakis 8 July 2021 at 4:15 pm - Reply

      I suspect this is just a subtle eye muscle imbalance. By doing this more frequently this is likely to loosen up.

  3. Joe 20 July 2021 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    When I look to the right and left up and down it hurts a lot

  4. PTav 31 July 2021 at 6:26 am - Reply

    Hi, I have been struggling with ongoing asthenopia secondary to trauma from a very very bright/large/harmful PC monitor. Was nauseous and had some vertigo for a couple days afterwards and since then (October, 2020) my eyes haven’t been the same. I fear I have the equivalent of a pulled/strained muscle but with my eyes. I use computers a lot both at work and for gaming and since October my condition has gotten even worse. I am now requiring daily doses of meclizine just to use the computer for prolonged periods of time and I cannot look at bright or large screens.

    At this point I am considering medical leave from work (if I am even allowed). I know that pulled/strained muscles normally take weeks to months to fully recover but I’m just wondering how long I would have to abstain from all near-sighted activities to really start to see improvement.

    I would appreciate any insight/advice you have to help me recover from this. I also discovered an underlying astigmatism with some mild myopia that is unrelated to this (my muscles always compensated in the past) and I’m considering LASIK just to relieve my muscles a bit. A desperate move but most clinicians haven’t really been able to help me much since this is such an unusual problem to see.

    Thank you and if you do not have any advice for me I completely understand. Appreciate you reading this in any case.

    -Dr. Tavangar

    • Jim Kokkinakis 2 October 2021 at 3:21 pm - Reply

      hello Dr Tavagar
      If you have a small underlying astigmatism you can have this corrected with glasses and leave the myopia uncorrected for near vision activity.
      You will need a comprehensive binocular vision evaluation as well. I would not do any LASIK to correct any spectacle prescription, as there are occasionally side effects to this and might not even coorect your asthenopia. Dont go looking for trouble with an irreversible procedure at this stage.
      Without seeing you it is difficult as i coudl be totally wrong but off the top of my head this is what I would do:
      1. Correct the astigmatism without the myopia, which will be exclusively for near vision.
      2. Add a blue blocker in case you are getting blue light sensitivity.
      3. Have a comprensive binocular vision assessment by someone that specialises in it.
      4. Consider the 20/20/20 rule in visual hygiene: “Taking regular breaks we call the 20/20/20 rule. This involves taking a break every 20 minutes, standing for 20 seconds and looking into the distance and blinking 20 times”. This will refresh your eyes. Whoever invented eyes did not invent them to stare at coomputer screens all day.
      5. Minimise your gaming activity. You are better to go and do some outdoor activity eg golf, tennis, or just go for long walk every day.

  5. manuel 2 August 2021 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    when online school started my eye started getting blurry and now whenever i look in my laptop screen and look somewhere far its really blurry and hard to see.

  6. Josh 10 August 2021 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    My symptoms of eye strain are start week ago but i can still feel it, what should i do?

  7. Emmanuel 16 August 2021 at 4:58 am - Reply

    Hi. My eyestrain reduces when I take a break. But they’ve persisted for a long time. Doctors say the eyes are okay. But I don’t know what else to do to make them go away. It’s more in my left eye and it’s worse when I use my phone or TV. Used to be a digital artist but can’t work anymore. This is the second year. I’m currently using Hypromelloae eyedrops to relieve the dry eyes. Any advice will be appreciated.

    • Jim Kokkinakis 2 October 2021 at 12:31 pm - Reply

      Hello Emmanuel
      Your situation is not unique. Dry eyes caused by excessive digital device use is extremely common. A general statement of “Doctors say the eyes are okay” is very vague. It could mean that they rae generally healthy but it tells me nothing about eye muscle co-ordination and the accomodation facility of your eyes. Often a subtle spectacle prescription (assuming it is appropriately prescribed and used) can make all the difference.
      From the perspective of dry eyes, rather than using eye drops, you are better to consciously blink 20 times every 30 minutes, especially when you are on the computer or doing any reading. This produces your own eye lubrication and guess what it comes for free. Often dry eyes needs more complex treatment but I suggest you go to our dry eye pages for that information:

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