What is an Eyestrain?

Eyestrain is an eye condition that is also known as eye fatigue. It occurs when they eyes go through intense use or are strained from overuse. Generally speaking, eyestrain is not a serious condition, but it can be annoying and frustrating. It can also cause vision disturbances that could impair visual judgment. In some cases, this could be dangerous.

A person can suffer from eyestrain for a variety of reasons. Most often, it comes from performing the same task or activity for a prolonged period of time that is strenuous on the eyes. This can include driving, working or playing on a computer or other digital device for a prolonged period of time, or trying to see in bright light or with a glare for an extended period of time.

Other possible reasons a person could experience eyestrain include being overly tired, experiencing stress, reading, or trying to see in dim lighting. Sometimes, eyestrain can also be a sign of another eye condition like vision loss.

What are the Symptoms of an Eyestrain?

Blurred vision, double vision, and difficulty focusing are the most common symptoms of eyestrain. A person’s eyes may also feel sore, achy, or otherwise irritated. Sometimes, eyestrain causes the eyes to appear red or bloodshot due to the fatigue and irritation. Eyes may also become quite watery or dry when a person is experiencing eyestrain.

Other symptoms of eyestrain include headaches, sore neck, and tense or sore shoulders. Light sensitivity and itchy eyes can also be signs of this condition.

Eyestrain Causes

Eyestrain can be caused by a number of different factors, including being exposed to bright lights, looking at digital screens too often and for too long, straining to see in dim lighting, driving for long periods of time, reading without taking breaks to rest your eyes, being overly stressed or tired, and exposure to dry air from a fan, heater, or air conditioning unit.

The American Optometric Association believes eyestrain can be caused by extended computer use and calls the condition computer vision syndrome, alternatively known as digital eyestrain. People who work with computers or who spend more than two hours per day staring at a digital screen are at risk of straining their eyes. This is because people typically use devices with reflections or glares, view screens at poor angles, and blink less when working on a computer. Blinking is what moistens the eyes.

How is an Eyestrain Treated?

Eyestrain can most often be treated by simply taking the time to rest the eyes. This may mean taking a break from electronic devices or from reading to close one’s eyes and relax for a bit. Sometimes, it is not necessary to close the eyes completely but rather to switch tasks for a short period of time or to simply shift eye focus from side to side or away from the main task briefly.

Dry eyes and itchy eyes from eyestrain can be treated with over-the-counter eye drops or artificial tears. If these basic changes do not give a person the relief from eye strain that they need, it is important to get checked out by an eye doctor for other possible eye conditions, like vision loss, cataracts, or glaucoma.

Eye Strain Prevention

You can prevent eyestrain by repositioning your computer screen or device. Always sit a few feet away from the screen or hold your device at about arm’s length and make sure you’re viewing at eye level. You could also read slightly below eye level. Since dry eyes can result from dry air, consider purchasing a humidifier to put some moisture in the air. Finding the right light can also have a tremendous impact on whether you’ll strain your eyes.

Use the 20-20-20 rule by shifting your attention to something else every 20 minutes by focusing on something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Taking a walk during your lunch break after spending an entire morning staring at a computer screen is another way to help prevent symptoms of eyestrain.

You can also prevent eyestrain by using eye drops, wearing proper eye equipment when performing activities that can damage your eyes, and by reducing the amount of time you spend doing any one thing. When you’re focusing too hard on something, you can easily strain your eyes.

Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 20, 2017