Chances are high that you spend a high percentage of your day looking at a computer screen. Plus, when you go home after a long work day, you might open your laptop or check your favorite social media sites on your smartphone.
All of this screen time helps you feel productive or entertained, but it can take a toll on your eyes. Although looking at computer and phone screens won’t permanently damage your vision, the screens can make your eyes feel tired or sore.
Below, we’ll tell you why eye strain happens, how you can mitigate its symptoms, and how your ophthalmologist can help.
What Causes Eye Strain?
Any muscle in your body gets sore if it’s overused, and the same principle holds true for your eyes. Even though your eyes have incredibly strong muscles, you use them during your every waking hour, which means they’re bound to get tired every once in a while.
Looking at digital screens-including computer and phone screens and HDTVs-wears your eyes’ muscles out faster than usual. Reading a hard copy of a book, magazine, or newspaper in dim light can also cause your eyes to feel tired and strained.
Along with a tired feeling in your eyes, you might notice the following symptoms:
- Dry, itchy, burning, or sore eyes
- Temporarily blurred vision
- Difficulty focusing your gaze
- Headaches and light sensitivity
Why does looking at screens affect your vision so much? When you’re not focused on a screen or on text, you blink about 15 times per minute, which keeps your eyes moist. However, when you focus closely on a digital screen, you only blink about five to seven times per minute. As a result, your eyes start to feel dry, itchy, or tired.
One specific type of eye strain is known as computer vision syndrome (CVS). Unlike books, computer screens produce their own source of light. You have to look at both the text and the flickering, bright light from the screen, which makes your eyes more tired.
You can compare CVS to other work-related problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, which occurs when you perform the same repetitive action (like clicking a mouse) over and over again. Similarly, when you keep your eyes locked on a screen, you force the muscles to perform a repetitive action, which tires out your eyes. Fortunately, unlike carpal tunnel, CVS and eye strain are easy to treat.
Why Are Some People More Likely to Experience Eye Strain or CVS?
If you have an underlying condition like astigmatism, nearsightedness, or farsightedness, your eyes are more likely to feel tired and strained after you finish the work day. You can also experience more eye strain depending on the day. If you feel anxious and stressed or if you didn’t get a good night’s sleep, your shoulders and neck might tense up, which can contribute to your eye strain.
How Can You Prevent or Treat Eye Strain?
Fortunately, eye strain has several easy fixes. If you often have a hard time focusing your eyes at work, try the following remedies:
- Make sure your computer screen is about 20 inches away from your face and that the top of your screen rests at your eye level.
- Give your eyes a break. Look away from the screen for at least five minutes every hour. You can also try looking away from the screen and blinking for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
- Don’t read in dim light. You can read in lower, yellow light if you’re getting ready for bed, but make sure the lights are still bright enough that you can see the text clearly.
- Instead of glancing down at paper documents and then glancing back up at the computer screen, get a document holder that holds the paper close to the screen. Your eyes won’t have to work as hard by frequently glancing down and then up.
- Reduce sources of light behind and above the computer. Reduce light sources that cause a glare on your screen.
- If your eyes frequently feel dry, use artificial tears to moisten them.
Usually, these steps on their own are enough to reduce your symptoms and keep you comfortable at work.
When Should You Visit Your Ophthalmologist?
If you try the above steps and still experience eye strain, you might want to visit your ophthalmologist. He or she can perform a basic checkup and see if any underlying conditions are contributing to your problem. For instance, in some rare cases, you might have an eye muscle imbalance that contributes to the strain.
Your ophthalmologist can also ensure that you’re using the right lens prescription-the wrong prescription can exacerbate your eye strain. If you don’t have glasses, headaches and blurred vision might indicate that you need a prescription to see better.
With a little help from your ophthalmologist, you’ll be able to see clearly at work and home. Get in touch if you have any questions or want to schedule an eye exam.