Causes of Eyestrain

Cut the glare and help your eyes

Mature businessman sitting, rubbing eyes in office cubicle
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Eyestrain is fundamentally caused by straining one or more of the eye muscles. Most commonly the strain is in the ciliary body, the eye muscle responsible for accommodation, typically by keeping it in one position for a long time, visually concentrating on one thing or one distance for too long.

The eyes tend to strain faster from focusing on near distances as opposed to far distances. Switching between distances rapidly can hasten the strain as well.

Symptoms of Eyestrain

The Mayo Clinic lists the following possible symptoms of eyestrain: 

  • Sore, tired, burning, or itching eyes
  • Watery or dry eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Headache
  • Sore neck, shoulders, or back
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling that you cannot keep your eyes open

Common Causes

Some common activities that can cause eyestrain include using a computer or other electronic device, reading, watching television, and driving.

In addition to activities that cause you to focus the eyes for long periods, some environmental factors can add to the stress placed on your eyes, such as low light levels, fluorescent lighting, a bad viewing angle, a poor ergonomic computer setup, low screen contrast levels, glare, brightness, and dry moving air from a fan or air conditioner.

Some personal factors contribute to eyestrain as well, such as poor and uncorrected vision, stress, fatigue/tiredness, and poor posture.

What You Can Do

Of course, as a problem caused by overuse, you'll want to incorporate breaks into your work or activity that's causing the eyestrain or limit your screen time if possible. Improve the lighting in the room, such as using soft light or task light that's not glaring into your eyes or onto a TV or computer screen. Using eye drops can help relieve dryness, as well as using a humidifier and positioning yourself or the air vent to limit air blowing directly on you.

At Your Computer Station

If work at a computer is a problem, position the monitor so that the top of the screen is at or below your eye level, at an arm's length away from you. Staring can be a problem, drying out your eyes, and people don't even realize it. Make sure you're blinking enough. Every 20 minutes or so, look away from the screen and focus on something in the distance. You can cut sunlight glare on the screen with a device that goes over the screen, or cut glare from lighting in the room by closing blinds or shades and using a desk lamp to the side rather than fluorescent lights above and behind you. You also can blow up text on the screen for easier reading, and adjust the monitor's settings to cut brightness. Keep the screen clean, as dust cuts contrast, and don't put a monitor right in front of a white wall.

Glasses

If you need glasses and have to work on a screen daily, your eye doctor may recommend eye exercises and corrective lenses (contacts or glasses) that have a special coating to reduce glare from screens. If you drive a lot, sunglasses with UV protection can help reduce strain as well.