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
- 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
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.