Is all eye strain the same? At The Eye Practice, we don’t think so. Eye strain has many underlying causes, and therefore, many different treatment strategies.
Are your eye muscles overworked?
Like any other kind of strain in the body, eye strain most often occurs when the muscles are overworked. These may be the larger muscles that allow the two eyes to work together, or they can be the tiny internal muscles of the eye that allow the natural lens to focus.
Have your eyes only recently felt strained?
The internal muscles of the eye contract (or work) to allow us to focus up close for reading or other close work. With appropriate breaks, they can usually do this quite comfortably, even for long periods.
Once we reach our forties, however, the muscles have to work a lot harder to focus and even at full capacity may not be able to provide perfectly clear focus. This is tiring and can result in eye strain. This condition is normal for everyone and is called presbyopia.
In this instance, eye exercises will get you nowhere. But the good news is that this type of eye strain has a quick fix: a pair of reading glasses (or multifocals) allow the muscles to relax and let the eyes just do their job. Most people will need a pair of reading glasses or multifocals by their mid-forties.
Astigmatism and eye strain
When it comes to focusing your eyes, the muscles can zoom your focus in and out but they can’t correct your astigmatism (or the variation in curvature of the front of your eye). This can lead to ‘accommodative hunting’, where the muscles keep contracting and relaxing as they try (but fail) to find clear focus.
Astigmatism is most commonly corrected with a pair of glasses, which may only be indicated for certain tasks, such as computer work or prolonged reading.
Most people have a little bit of astigmatism and that’s perfectly normal and generally doesn’t cause an issue, but if you have 1 dioptre of astigmatism or more, wearing prescription glasses can really take the pressure off and relax your eyes by providing clear, comfortable focus. Eye exercises do not relieve eyestrain associated with astigmatism.
When it comes to certain tasks…
Glasses are prescribed for use at a certain distance, such as reading up close. If you try to use them to see at a different distance, such as a desk top computer at about arm’s length, they won’t provide clear vision.
Make sure you talk to your optometrist about the way you work and the kind of distances you need to see clearly at, so they can prescribe the appropriate type of lenses.
If your problem is that your two eyes are not working well together, eye exercises can often help with eye strain. Your optometrist can carry out a series of tests to assess the muscle balance of your eyes. Sometimes they might include prism in your glasses prescription so that your eyes can relax but still work together.
Other times they may recommend eye exercises to strengthen the eye muscles that move the eyes and keep them aligned. Pencil push-ups have been in and out of fashion for decades but they have been shown in clinical studies to be an effective to strengthen eye muscles.
Computer vision eye strain
There’s a certain kind of eye strain that we’ve seen a lot more of in the last decade. Anyone who stares at a digital screen all day (i.e. most people these days) can be prone to digital eye strain. This is related to glare, blue-light exposure, dehydration of the front surface of the eye (leading to poorer focus) and tiring eye muscles.
The solution? We obviously can’t turn the clock back to a screen-free existence but we’ve previously written about some practical steps you can take to reduce or eliminate computer eye strain. Blink, take breaks, manage contrast and consider blue-blockers to give yourself the best chance.
What is Irlen syndrome?
Some people are sensitive to reading on a particular coloured background – even black font on a white background. The words can appear to move, pulse, jitter or become mixed up. A special kind of tint (available in glasses or as a transparent plastic overlay) can switch off – or tone down – these symptoms significantly.
If this sounds like you (or your child) ask your optometrist about colorimetry testing to determine if you could reduce eye fatigue and other symptoms.