You can strain your eyes by reading, driving long distances and constantly using digital devices. Treatment can involve using lubricating eye drops frequently and changing how you work. Start with an eye exam.
Eye strain is a common condition caused by intense use of your eyes, such as by reading, using digital devices or driving long distances. Other names for eye strain are eye fatigue and asthenopia.
Eye strain can cause discomfort, but it’s usually not a serious condition. Plus, there are many things you can do to reduce or prevent eye strain. If you can’t relieve your eye strain with some lifestyle changes, including the use of artificial tears, there’s a chance that it may be a symptom of something more serious than eye fatigue. That’s why getting an eye exam is always a good idea.
In recent years, the main common cause of eye strain is the extended use of computers or other digital devices, such as cell phones or tablets. The term for this type of eye strain is digital eye strain.
Eye strain can be temporary or long-lasting.
Temporary eye strain is very common. Most people find that their eyes are tired after a long day.
Digital eye strain is also very common. An estimated 2 out of 3 people in the U.S. report digital eye strain symptoms.
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Symptoms of eye strain affect your eyes as well as other parts of your body.
Symptoms of eye strain that affect your eyes include:
Symptoms of eye strain that affect other parts of your body include:
Eye strain is caused by intensely focusing your eyes during a task. Causes can include:
People with prior eye conditions, like uncorrected vision or eye muscle imbalance, are at greater risk of eye strain. Stress and fatigue can also contribute to eye strain.
Digital eye strain has several distinct causes. Researchers have found that when people use computers or other digital screens, they blink less. This leads to dry eyes, which can contribute to eye strain.
Digital devices can also cause eye strain because of their glare, or when there’s poor contrast between the words on the screen and the background. Improper distance from the screen and poor lighting can also lead to eye strain.
One of the most important things you can do for your eyes in these cases is to use eye drops like artificial tears.
Risk factors for eye strain can include:
Most times, eye strain will disappear on its own. In those cases, you don’t need to see a healthcare provider. You can usually treat temporary eye strain with some simple lifestyle changes and being aware of what kinds of tasks bother your eyes.
But if your eye strain is severe or long term, you should make an appointment with a medical provider to rule out any more serious conditions.
A healthcare provider or eye care provider can diagnose eye strain in their office. During this visit, they’ll discuss the following topics:
Your provider may also do a physical exam to look for muscle imbalance, uncorrected refractive errors and other issues with the eye itself. Refractive errors are things like nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia).
You can usually treat eye strain with lifestyle changes. These may include wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses for certain types of activities. Taking breaks from reading, writing and driving can also help reduce eye strain.
One main suggestion for reducing digital eye strain is to follow the 20-20-20 rule. This rule says to take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away from you every 20 minutes.
Other treatment (management) tips for eye strain include:
Eye strain can be irritating, but it’s rarely more than a nuisance. However, one thing to consider with digital eye strain is the question of blue light and how it affects your eyes.
The majority of blue light you see comes from the sun. The sun emits visible light in a spectrum of colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. The blue end of the spectrum has more energy and shorter wavelengths than the red end of the spectrum.
Blue light, which can also come from digital devices and light bulbs, is necessary for eye development, visual function and overall good health. Some researchers think that recent increases in nearsightedness may be due to a lack of sunlight.
Other researchers think that too much exposure to blue light may eventually damage your retina. Scientists will continue to study the effects of blue light on eye health.
In order to prevent eye strain, or lower your risk for eye strain, you may find it helpful to:
In most cases, you can expect eye strain to improve relatively quickly after you stop doing the things that are causing the fatigue.
If eye strain doesn’t improve quickly, or if you feel like you have eye strain all of the time, then you should consider speaking to a healthcare provider.
It’s always a good idea to get an eye exam if you experience any changes in vision at all, including more frequent or long-lasting bouts of eye strain.
You should have regular appointments with an eye care provider. Ask them to suggest a schedule. If you have eye strain that’s interfering with your ability to do your activities or with feeling healthy, call your eye care provider and make an appointment.
If you’re discussing eye strain with your provider, you may want to ask questions like:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Eye strain is something that most people have experience with, especially because many people use digital devices for work and entertainment. Normally, eye strain is uncomfortable and irritating, but it’s not dangerous. If you find that you’re having difficulty with tired eyes, one good place to start would be an eye exam. You can combine tips from your eye care provider with adjustments to your lifestyle and your environment.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/14/2023.
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