In this modern era of technology, more than 60 percent of Americans are affected by eye strain, a condition that occurs due to intense use of eyes, such as driving for long hours and excessive staring at computer screens. On a global scale, an even greater number of people are affected. Although more people should discuss this issue, the eye strain has become the new normal, and we really need to pay attention to it.
Eye strain – also called as eye fatigue or tired eyes – is a common condition and more people have it today than ever before. Why? The answer is simple. We spend more time on electronically-lit devices and give less rest to our eyes.
Remember how your eyes felt tired and irritated after long hours of focus while doing activities like reading a book or viewing a computer screen? That’s eye strain.
This article presents the causes and symptoms of eye strain along with information on how to prevent and treat it.
Causes of Eye Strain
Generally, intense focus on a certain activity causes eye strain. Unlike some other eye problems, eye strain can develop in everyone based on his routine. It can occur in children, young people, and older ones alike.
According to a research study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, most university students face eye fatigue. It is a common complaint because of frequent use of computer screens for academic and recreational purposes. Mentioned below is a list of causes to help you identify your risk factors.
- Looking at electronically-lit devices
- Exposure to glare or bright light
- Trying to focus in dim light
- Reading for a long time without resting your eyes
- Long distance drive
- An underlying eye problem, such as poor vision, eye-muscle imbalance or dry eyes
- Exposing eyes to dry air from an air-conditioning system or a fan.
- Not blinking enough while performing a task or an activity
- Holding a book or a digital device too close to the eyes
- Poor posture while using devices like mobile, laptops, and tablets.
- Poor diet
Individuals using digital devices are more prone to eye strain. According to the American Optometric Association, an eye strain resulting from digital effects is called as digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome. Those who look at screens for two or more hours every day are more likely to experience this condition.
Eye strain due to computer use is common mainly because people usually maintain less-than-ideal angle and distance from the screens. They are also likely to read poor contrast content on computers, and let’s face it; while watching our favorite show, we all blink a little less than we should. Moreover, some computer screens have excess glare and reflection that aggravates the problem.
Symptoms of eye strain
Eye strain occurs when the tiny muscles and nerves in your eyes become stressed and fatigued due to overwork. The usual symptoms include the following:
- Dry eyes (some people may experience watery eyes)
- Pain in and around one’s eye
- Burning sensation in the eyes
- Eye irritation
- A headache
- Blurred vision (temporary)
- Double vision
- Soreness in the eyes, neck, shoulders, or the back
- Photophobia (light sensitivity)
- Difficulty in focusing or keeping the eyes open
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The intensity of symptoms depends on the number of hours spent focusing on a task. Most symptoms disappear with the limited use of electronically-lit devices. However, the symptoms can lead to decreased productivity at work, increased number of work errors, and anxiety.
Natural remedies for eye strain
Most of us have experienced eye strains and the ones who have had it know that it’s annoying. Fortunately, it is not a severe condition. The treatment is simple and non-invasive. Try these natural remedies to treat your eye strain.
1. Take regular breaks
Majority of research studies attribute excessive computer use as the reason for strained eyes. The more time you spend on computers, the longer your symptoms last. A grand strategy to reduce eye strain is to ensure regular rest breaks from your digital devices.
This break from your laptop screen doesn’t mean that it’s time to scroll through social media newsfeed on a cell phone. It’s time to close your eyes for some time. Give rest to your muscles.
While you’re on a break, get some water, blink your eyes, move around in the house, or do meditation. You may also engage in some non-electronic activity that soothes your eyes, de-stresses them, and help you regain concentration.
2. Try simple eye exercises
An 8-week study was conducted on undergraduate nursing students. These students performed yogic eye exercise for 60 minutes, 2 days per week. This 60-minute eye exercise involved eight steps:
- Sideways viewing
- Front and sideways viewing
- Up and down viewing
- Rotational viewing
- Preliminary nose tip gazing
- Near and distant viewing
The eye exercise students had significant improvement in the reduction of eye strain symptoms compared to the control group. While it may be challenging to practice 1-hour sessions of this exercise, you can still benefit by practicing these eye movements for 5-10 minutes every day.
3. Apply the 20-20-20 rule
Too much time spent looking at the screens is the leading cause of eye strain. But if someone tells you to eliminate the use of screens from your life, that would be impractical. However, 20-20-20 rule can help you prevent eye strain.
The rule is simple. Here’s what you got to do. After every 20 minutes, focus on something other than the activity you are doing. The thing you focus on should be 20 feet away, and you must look 20 seconds on that thing.
The question, why 20 seconds? Well, your eyes need at least 20 seconds to relax.
And while you take a break from hectic screen time, it’s good to have green tea as it contains catechins that improve the functioning of lacrimal glands, hence producing more tears for the eye lubrication. One of the side effects of eye strain is dry and irritable eyes. Green tea can help solve this issue.
But what about the fact that humans can easily forget to do something that’s supposed to be done every 20 minutes? You can have sticky notes on the desk to remind you of 20-20-20 rule. You can also set a timer. There’s also an app for this. Try Eye Care 20 20 20 you just have to start this app at the beginning of your screen time, and it’ll remind you to take a break and look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
4. Be in a well-lit environment
I have come across reading addicts telling stories of how they read past bedtime with a flashlight under the blanket or with a lamp lit on the side table of the bed. These people also happen to read for long hours while keeping the book close to the eyes. To avoid eye strain, you must:
• have a room adequately lit for better reading (for watching TV, dim light can actually reduce eye strain)
• keep the book at a considerable distance from the face
• remember to blink
• have the light source behind you
Both dim and bright light can cause a problem. Adjust the brightness of your devices as needed. Avoid glare by shading windows. In the case of electronic devices, use matte screens to reduce glare from the screen.
5. Position your screen
Improper position of your digital device can also pose a threat to your eye’s health. There should be about arm’s distance between you and the screen. It should have the same level as that of your eyes or position it slightly below the eye level.
Similarly, handheld devices should also be kept below eye level, and that means you are not supposed to use cell phones while lying down in a supine position. For mobile phones and tablets, you can enlarge the text to make it easy for your eyes to read content. If you need to transcribe certain documents, position your hard copy in a way that you don’t have to move your eyes, shoulders, and neck too frequently. A document stand is a good option to place your documents in a way as to prevent eye strain.
6. Protect your eyes from the sunlight
In the presence of UV light exposure from the sun and blue light from the electronic devices, the symptoms of eye strain get worse. A simple tip would be to wear sunglasses. They look cool and protect your eyes from strain. You can also wear a hat to protect your eyes. Do not attempt to stare in the direction of the sun. Trust me; it’s a bad idea. And finally, stay out of the direct sunlight during peak hours.
7. Get enough sleep
If you are in your 20’s, you must have already experienced sleep deprivation. It presents as tiredness, painful and dry eyes, and an inability to concentrate well. The muscles in your eyes need rest too. When you are sleep deprived, these muscles become extra tired. To prevent this, aim for 6-7 hours of sleep.
8. Trying listening instead of reading
The feeling you get from reading a hardcopy is an unmatchable thing. But in a time where the demand to focus intensely on screens and pages is high, an audiobook can actually save you from the irritability of eye strain.
Imagine, you were in your office working 9-5 on a computer screen. By the time you get back home, your eyes are already tired. You then open a book and try to read over a cup of coffee. The results can be fulfilling in terms of fulfilling your desire to read, but the health consequences of too much focus in just one day are far from ideal. You are asking for much more than your eyes can bear.
Now, do not hate me for recommending a recorded version of a written book. During these conditions where you need to reduce the need to focus, audiobooks are a great joy. Try to give rest to your eyes and close them while listening to these audiobooks or videos.
9. Check the air
Eye strain often causes dry eyes. To prevent the enhanced effect, look for air quality. Dry environment or places with fans and cooling units are likely to cause dry eyes. It is important to sit in a place where you don’t have to feel the air drying up all the moisture from your eyes. You can also turn down the fan and the cooling system, or use humidifier to improve the atmosphere.
10. Use eye drops
You are more likely to blink less while the focus is on a particular thing. Less blinking results in dry and irritated eyes. Having artificial tears on your work desk can help solve this issue. Blinking more while using screens is an even better option.
Complications of eye strain
Eye strain is usually a harmless condition with no serious or long-term complications. It can, however, be annoying and interruptive of concentration. Currently, there is no evidence that eye strain can lead to any other eye-related problems. It does not cause any structural damage.
(Note: If you happen to have prolonged eye strain or eye irritation, consult your healthcare provider. This can be a sign of some serious eye condition.)
Eye strain is a common condition that can present symptoms of a headache, dry and painful eyes, and visual changes. The primary cause of eye strain is too much time spent on electronically lit devices. A combination of certain natural remedies and preventive strategies can help relieve the symptoms of eye strain.