If you feel like your eyes are just not coping with modern life, you’re not alone. Symptoms of fatigue, burning, stinging, blurriness, dryness or light sensitivity can all be warning signs of eye strain.
But what’s causing it and what can you do about it?
This post looks at the biggest culprits when it comes to eye strain as well as some management strategies.
#1 – Computer use
Love them or hate them, digital devices are here to stay. Computer Vision Syndrome is another name for the eyestrain caused by looking at digital screens. Eyes struggle with computer screens far more than they do with other reading material for a number of reasons:
- When you stare at a screen, you blink a lot less than when you read a book. This leads to dry eyes and blurriness.
- Glare occurs when there is too much contrast either on the screen itself or between your screen and the surrounding lighting. Your eyes can cope with very bright or very dim lighting conditions, but they struggle when there is a mixture of light and dark.
- Sitting with poor posture at a desk for eight hours will strain not only your eyes, but your neck, back and shoulders.
Tips for managing eye strain due to digital devices
- Blink! You’d be amazed how much your eye strain symptoms are relieved by stimulating your tear production by blinking regularly.
- Take breaks – even short ones. Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, stand up for 20 seconds, look into the distance and blink fully 20 times.
- Turn your screen brightness and contrast down to half. Most people have their computer monitors set for maximum clarity with brightness and contrast levels turned up high. But contrast = glare. And a bright screen against a dark background is another source of glare.
- Wear blue-blocking lenses. While some monitors (such as those made by BenQ) have blue light filters built in, most screens emit light from the toxic blue end of the spectrum. You can have your prescription glasses made up with blue blocker filters. These are also available without prescription.
#2 – Underlying vision problems
Uncorrected vision or a muscle imbalance can also lead to eye strain – especially when the eyes are used for intense tasks such as computer use or prolonged driving.
Most people who don’t wear glasses don’t have perfect vision. Small uncorrected errors are common and don’t usually lead to eye strain. However, if you stare at a computer for several hours per day, even small errors can become significant. The most common uncorrected errors to cause eye strain are:
- Astigmatism - this might not cause day-to-day symptoms, but looking at a computer for 8-10 hours a day can bring on symptoms of blur, headache and tiredness.
- Long-sightedness - if your distance vision is clearer and more comfortable than your near vision, and you are under 40, you may be long-sighted. This means the eyes have to work much harder to see up close. A simple pair of glasses for close work can make a world of difference to your comfort.
- Presbyopia - if you're in your 40s and haven't yet got reading glasses, you may be expecting too much of your eyes. Presbyopia happens to everyone, usually starting around their mid-forties, and means it is harder for your eyes to focus up close even though your distance vision remains the same.
- Muscle imbalance - your eyes are set up to work together comfortably, but sometimes the eye muscles are too strong or too weak and the eyes don't function well as a pair. Eye exercises or prism in your glasses can often quickly correct this.
Tips for managing eye strain due to your vision
- Have an eye exam. Correcting astigmatism, long-sightedness, presbyopia or an imbalance between the two eyes can bring significant relief for eye strain sufferers.
- Take breaks! Stopping even once an hour to look out a window into the distance for a few minutes can take a load off and relieve eye strain.
#3 – Environmental factors
The days of working in the great outdoors are long since past for the majority of workers. Most work is carried out at desks in air-conditioned, often brightly lit environments. Our bodies, and in particular, our eyes, haven't evolved fast enough to keep up with the digital age.
Tips for managing eye strain due to your environment
- If you (like most office workers) spend your day in air-conditioning, make sure you stay hydrated. Drinking water will help, as will using a preservative free lubricating eye drop once or twice a day. Avoid sitting under air-conditioning vents where possible.
- If your work environment uses fans for heating or cooling, make sure you stay out of the direct line of the airflow.
- Try to avoid glare situations such as working next to a window. Ideally the brightness of the screen should be similar to the background.
- Make sure your desk, chair and keyboard are positioned for best ergonomics. Symptoms of eye strain are not limited to the eyes. In fact, most people who suffer from this condition also experience other symptoms such as back and neck pain, headaches, difficulty concentrating and tiredness.