Just like muscles fatigue and strain through overuse during exercise, heavy lifting and even yard work, so too can eye muscles suffer fatigue and strain through overuse. And just like leg, back or arm muscles need time to rest and recuperate after times of extensive strain, eye muscles also need rest.
Common causes of eye strain resulting from overuse include:
- Extended use of electronics including computers, cell phones, tablets and televisions.
- Extended periods of intense focus such as when driving & reading.
- Underlying eye problems. Eye strain won’t cause these, but certain eye conditions can worsen eye fatigue.
- Extreme light exposure. Bright lights, glare and insufficient lighting all contribute to eye strain.
- Individual factors such as stress level and posture also impact intensity of eye strain.
Just like leg or arm muscle show clear signs of fatigue, so too do eye muscles. While everyone recognizes when eyes become tired, additional signs can help catch the situation before extreme fatigue sets in, which prevents the more debilitating symptoms like severe headaches and inability to focus.
Signs of severe eye fatigue include:
- Sore eyes
- Trouble focusing, double vision or blurred vision
- Dry, or watery eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Neck, shoulder or back pain
Fortunately, eye strain does not permanently damage eyes or change their anatomy. Unfortunately, strain on the eye muscles does significantly impact an individual’s productivity. In fact, up to 90% of computer workers experience eye strain, and WebMD says this discomfort could be responsible for up to 10 million eye examinations yearly. This number is expected to grow with the increasing use of handheld devices that cause added eye strain because of looking at small text sizes. WebMD also says digital devices may add to eye strain by causing individuals to blink less, resulting in tired, itchy, dry and burning eyes.
Yet another similarity eye strain holds with other types of muscle strain involves the many and varied ways for preventing and relieving the discomfort.
Suggestions for preventing and relieving eye strain include:
- Taking breaks. Eye experts, including those at the Mayo Clinic, recommend the 20-20-20 rule for preventing eye strain. This involves taking a break every 20 minutes from any activity causing eye strain. During that break, look about 20 feet away for about 20 seconds.
- Changing poor habits. In addition to taking frequent breaks, consider simply minimizing screen time. Other habits to consider changing include making sure you blink often enough and varying activities throughout the day.
- Paying attention to ergonomics. Simple ergonomic changes for reducing and preventing eye strain include choosing screens that tilt & swivel, using an adjustable chair, and placing a document holder next to your computer screen. Not only can these adjustments help eyes feel better, they will likely ease the strain on back and neck muscles too.
- Adjust lighting & contrast. Changes to lighting and general visibility can also help ease eye strain. Those changes include using a glare filter over computer screens, changing lighting to reduce glare and reflection, and adjusting desk position and/or using screens to avoid glare from natural light through windows. Also, simply cleaning smudges from computer screens helps a lot with improving visibility and thus reducing eye strain.
- Consider alternative approaches. Maybe you’ve done all of the above and still struggle with eye strain. Consider learning cupping as well as how to properly massage your eyes to help relieve eye strain. Other approaches include using artificial tears and resting eyes in complete darkness. Also consider wearing occupational glasses, such as computer safety glasses, to increase contrast perception and filter out glare and reflective light.
Even though eye strain does not permanently damage eyes, it definitely affects individual productivity. Even worse, though, is that impaired vision caused by eye strain can create safety issues resulting in a severely worse situation with more permanent consequences.
For your own comfort and safety and potentially that of others as well, decide on a few small changes you can make today to prevent and reduce eye strain. Chances are good that no one method for reducing eye strain will provide complete and permanent relief, so consider developing an eye rest routine combining the above suggestions to help prevent, reduce and relieve your eye strain.