Do your eyes hurt right now? If you answered yes, then stop reading. You’ve possibly got eye strain. That’s your first tip right there, and we’re not even 50 words in. We’re nothing if not efficient.
Eye strain… at a glance
Take a look at everything you need to know about eye strain — but not too closely.
Symptoms of eye strain
Here’s the symptoms that will accompany eye strain alongside, erm, strained eyes:
- a headache
- blurred vision
- sore eyes that might also be red and/or dry
- pains or aches in your neck, shoulders, or back
How eye strain happens
Here’s how you strain your eyes:
- focusing too long without a break (like when you’re driving or reading)
- too long looking at screens
- stress or exhaustion
- eye problems like dry eyes
- being in a room with lighting that’s too bright or too dark
- not using binoculars properly when you’re trying to find Bigfoot or identify birds
How to un-strain your eyes
Here’s how to un-strain your eyes:
- Take breaks from looking at stuff.
- Reposition your screen.
- Adjust the lighting.
- Use eye drops.
- Get glasses or contact lenses.
Do I need a doctor for eye strain?
But if you try home remedies and still experience discomfort (or it gets worse) definitely see your doctor.
In the U.S. eye strain is a growing problem. Around 65 percent of people in the U.S. experience what’s known as digital eye strain from spending too long looking at screens.
You can get eye strain for other reasons (bird watchers get it a lot if they don’t use their binoculars the right way), but screens are the most common reason.
We won’t insult you by explaining that eye strain happens when you strain your eyes. If you want to know more about the hows, whys, and whats of pushing your peepers too far, then read on.
It won’t surprise you to know that most eye strain symptoms happen in the eyes. Soreness, redness, and dry or itchy eyeballs — all are symptoms of eye strain.
Eye pain isn’t the only symptom of eye strain though, because of course it’s not (thanks, fragile interconnected human physiology).
Here’s some of the uncomfortable stuff you might go through when your looking-at-stuff muscles throw in the towel.
- difficulty concentrating
- feeling you can’t keep your eyes open
- sensitivity to light
- Neck/back/shoulder pain (Eye strain can cause your neck, back, and shoulders a fair bit of discomfort. The nerves at the back of your eye are linked to nerves and muscles in these places.)
- Blurry vision (When your eyes are strained, your vision can become blurry. You may even start seeing double. This can be due to a number of reasons, from a dry cornea to inflamed muscles squeezing or squashing your eyeball.)
Headaches are a common symptom of strained eyes.
There are many flavors of headache. Eyestrain headaches aren’t particularly spicy (they clear up after you rest your eyes, usually). But they do have their own qualities that set them apart from tension or cluster headaches.
Eye strain headaches come on after you’ve been using your eyes for a long time, and not just after you’ve been looking at screens either.
As an 1800’s eye expert named Peter A. Callan proves by existing prior to the invention of the television, you can get eye strain headaches with nary a screen in sight.
Eye strain headaches are concentrated behind the eyes. It makes quite a bit of sense when you think about it.
There are a few ways you might strain your eyes. In the 21st century, most of them involve some kind of screen and/or device.
- doing a vision-heavy activity like driving or reading for too long without a break
- being highly stressed (because what part of your body doesn’t stress wreck, right?)
- lack of sleep or general tiredness
- vision problems (Yep, eye strain is one of the first signs you need to visit the eye doctor for new glasses or contact lenses.)
- bright or dim lights (because they make you squint)
- incorrect binocular use when looking for Bigfoot from your vantage point up a tree deep in the wilderness (Seriously, be better at binoculars — also, he’s the one with big feet, you can’t miss him.)
Digital eye strain, or computer vision syndrome, is by far the most common cause of eye strain in the U.S.
The prolonged use of anything with a screen can cause eyestrain — so that’s phones, TVs, computers, games consoles… heck, that’s our entire life. Great.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that around 65 percent of folks in the U.S. experience digital eye strain.
How long can I look at a screen without straining my eyes?
If the screen isn’t on, then almost indefinitely. But you’re probably wasting a lot of time staring at a blank screen.
If the screen is on, then there’s no definitive answer to that question. As a rule of thumb, the American Optometric Association recommends taking a break every 20 minutes or so to rest your eyes and to try and limit overall screen time to no longer than an hour or 2 in one sitting.
According to eye science people, 90 percent of U.S. peeps use their devices for more than 2 hours a day.
Among folk with eye strain, 9/10 will also have used their devices for more than 2 hours a day.
You can see the correlation there. The more screen time you have, the greater the risk of digital eye strain.
You can mostly avoid eye strain if you’re sensible and don’t treat your eyeballs like garbage.
- Look away regularly. Eye experts often refer to what they call the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes shift your focus to something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. You should also take regular breaks if you do work that involves intense focus. If you work on a computer, it’s important this break doesn’t involve a screen. Go outside, cubicle prisoner. Taste the freedom and sunshine.
- Position your screen properly. The screen you’re looking at should be a few feet from your eyes (or arm’s length if you’re one of those weirdos that don’t carry a tape measure everywhere). It should also be at eye level or slightly lower. Pro tip: use large text fonts to further reduce your risk of eye strain.
- Find proper lighting. Make sure it’s not too bright or too dim, and that light comes from behind if you’re focusing on something. Lighting goes for screens too. Fiddle with that brightness to your heart’s content.
- Up your multitask game. If you’re working from multiple screens or texts, position them in a way that doesn’t make you move your eyes and neck around too much.
- Eyedrops. Use them. Eyedrops are readily available at most drug stores. You blink less when you concentrate, which makes your eyes itchy. Blinking more stops this. But if you notice too late, eyedrops can re-moisturize your peepers — no problemo.
- Take note of the air. If you’re somewhere dry or polluted, it can be bad for your eyes. Fans, heating, and cooling units can also be bad for them. Adjust the heating system, get a humidifier, or go somewhere else if the air is giving you eye grief.
- Wear the right eyewear. If you should wear glasses, and you’re not wearing glasses, put your glasses on. If you don’t need glasses and are getting eyestrain, go visit the eye doctor. You may be wrong when you say you don’t need glasses.
The above steps are probably all you’ll need to treat eye strain. It’s easy to remedy in most cases. For eye strain, prevention and treatment are pretty much one and the same.
If prevention techniques don’t work, there’s some home remedies that may provide instant eye strain relief:
- A cold compress. Even a cool, damp washcloth applied over your eyes a few times a day will do.
- Castor oil. Castor-oil-based eye drops before bed may be a particularly effective home remedy for recurrent eyestrain.
When to see a doctor about eye strain
Eye strain isn’t massively dangerous.
You should see a doctor if your symptoms don’t get better after trying some home treatments and lifestyle adjustments. You should also visit an optometrist if you keep getting eye strain despite your best efforts (as we said, you may need specs).
It’s important to note that eye strain pain isn’t often that severe. If you are experiencing severe, acute pains in your eyes, see a doctor immediately. Peeps experiencing any eye strain symptoms to debilitating levels might have a much more serious underlying cause.
There are a fair few ways to strain your eyes. The most common causes are screens and devices. We spend longer than we should looking at screens, so digital eye strain is mad common.
Eye strain is treatable. There are plenty of home remedies and easy adjustments you can make to avoid it or reduce symptoms.
One of the most effective ways to prevent eye strain is to reduce screen time and take regular breaks. If you can’t, then at least do yourself a favor and use some eye drops.
Eye strain usually isn’t serious. That being said, eye strain can be a sign of more serious underlying conditions. If symptoms persist despite your best efforts or are incredibly severe, seek medical attention.