What is Eye Strain & How Long Does It Last?

Eye strain can be debilitating if it’s left untreated. Our modern eyes are bombarded by light from digital screens for hours on end, and many of us power through symptoms of eye strain without thinking much of them – luckily, the solution for fatigued eyes usually just involves a bit of rest.

In this guide, we’ll be going over the basics of eye strain, talking about what causes it, and offering you a handful of simple, affordable solutions to ease your sleepy eyes.

What is eye strain?

Like its name implies, eye strain – also known as asthenopia – is a health condition caused by overusing or straining your eyes. As the popularity of smartphones, computers, and other devices featuring digital screens continues to grow, eyestrain has become an incredibly common vision issue, with many of us regularly experiencing a bit of eye stress and discomfort throughout the day.

While eye strain can be uncomfortable and annoying, the good news is it’s normally not a sign of any serious vision problem – usually, a bit of rest and relaxation away from your phone and computer screen is all you’ll need to recover.

too much screen time impacting sleep

What are the symptoms of eye strain?

Ever find yourself asking: why do my eyes feel heavy and strained?

Eye strain can present itself through a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, many of which are highly uncomfortable. You’re going to want to do some more research if you notice yourself regularly experiencing any of these eye strain symptoms:

  • Eye pain, soreness, fatigue, twitching, and discomfort
  • Dry, itchy, or burning eye sensations
  • Blurry or double vision, sometimes requiring you to squint
  • Headaches, particularly around or behind the eyes and forehead
  • Sore neck, shoulders, or back muscles
  • Concentration issues
  • Light sensitivity, also known as photophobia

How long does eye strain last?

Typically, eye strain only lasts a few hours – or even less if you quickly stop whatever activity is stressing your eyes. Keep in mind, however, that it’s possible for eye strain to last multiple days if you don’t allow your eyes the rest they need.

If you’re experiencing eye strain that lasts multiple days without relief, you should consult with your doctor or preferred health care professional as soon as possible, as eye fatigue that doesn’t resolve itself through rest relatively quickly may be caused by other underlying health issues.

How is eye strain diagnosed?

Eye strain is usually diagnosed by an eye care team made up of ophthalmologists and optometrists – eye experts who specialize in comprehensive eye exams and treatments. If you schedule an appointment with your eye care team, you’ll typically experience a few things upon your visit:

  • An eye exam, where your eyes will be physically examined
  • A vision test, using specialized equipment suited to your particular needs
  • A follow up appointment, depending on the results

Eye strain can also be a symptom of other, more serious health issues. Migraines, tension headaches, and other uncomfortable or painful conditions could be the source of your eye strain, which is why it’s important to be aware of the most common causes for tired eyes.

What causes eye strain?

Eye strain can be caused by numerous different factors, most of which involve long periods of high-intensity eye focus. For example, if you’re regularly focusing on a computer screen for hours at a time at work, it’s likely you may experience eye strain at some point. Here are some of the main causes of eye strain:

  • Computer, television, cell phone, or tablet use
  • Blue light from digital devices
  • Reading or detailed work, such as crafting or drawing
  • Driving, especially during periods of low-visibility
  • Exposing your eyes to bright flashes of light or glares
  • Poor lighting in general
  • Eye dryness, which could be from other underlying health conditions
  • Not blinking often enough, or being around fans, heating, or air conditioning
  • General stress and fatigue

Computer vision syndrome

Unsurprisingly, digital devices are often responsible for causing eye strain. Even if you don’t work around digital screens, chances are you spend some of your free time browsing your phone, watching movies or television shows, or playing video games.

In fact, eye strain caused by digital screens even has its own name. Dubbed computer vision syndrome (CVS) or digital eye strain by the American Optometric Association (AOA), this category of eye strain specifically refers to stress caused by exposure to blue light and the extended use of digital screens.

For those of us who work in a typical office setting – including home offices – focusing on a digital device for long periods of time isn’t anything new or special. Because of how common computer eye strain is, adjusting your daily habits is one of the best ways to treat and prevent digital eye strain in general. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to avoid it:

How can you prevent eye strain?

As mentioned before, eye strain isn’t usually a serious health issue. Whether it’s your first time experiencing it, or something you struggle to deal with everyday, changing a few simple parts of your daily routine should relieve your discomfort relatively quickly. You’ll want to consider a few different areas in your everyday routine:

  • Your digital screens and ergonomics
  • Your lifestyle and home environment
  • Your work habits

Adjust your computer monitor

Adjusting your computer monitor is one of the most effective ways to reduce digital eye strain. Your main screen should be positioned directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away from you. The center of your monitor should be a few inches below eye level while sitting, with the goal of reducing how much you need to shift your eyes or move your head and neck while sitting.

Reduce your exposure to blue light with glasses

Blue light is the highest-energy light on the visible spectrum, and is present in the screens of digital devices and light from the sun. Constant exposure to blue light can negatively affect your eyes – if you’re interested in how blue impacts your eyes you should read about how blue light affects your vision.

Either way, the best way to reduce your exposure is by wearing ergonomic devices like blue light glasses. Blue light glasses work by filtering out harmful rays through a specialized lens coating that reflects a percentage of the unwanted light spectrum, and absorbs another fraction on top of that. Most blue light glasses are fitted with a yellow or green tint as well; these particular hues add another layer of protection from blue light.

If you’re looking for a stylish pair this new year, make sure you check out our collection of blue light glasses which can be customized with non-prescription, prescription, and reading lenses. All of our models are designed with reducing your digital eye strain in mind.

Reduce screen glare where possible

If your digital screens are positioned poorly, bright light from outside of a window or nearby light fixture may be reflected – which means your eyes have to combat glare for hours on end.

Light from your computer screen can be considered a type of glare too, which means figuring out ways to lower your blue light exposure is another important part of reducing glare overall. Here are a few ways this can be accomplished:

  • Position any screens away from windows, and tilt them as needed
  • Adjust your screen’s brightness and look for computer screen blue light filters
  • Invest in adjustable window shades or blinds
  • Regularly clean your screens to reduce glare

You’ll also want to have other lighting in your room in order to reduce contrast. If the screen of your computer – even with a glare filter – is the only light shining directly at you, that’s a pretty good sign your work environment needs a bit of updating.

Give your eyes regular screen breaks

Aside from adjusting your screen and filtering light out, you need to give your eyes regular breaks away from any screens and other digital devices. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), you should follow their 20-20-20 rule.

Basically, this means every 20 minutes you should shift your eyes away to an object 20 feet away, and hold your gaze there for 20 seconds – but you should also take longer breaks from digital screens when possible too.

Your eyes need moisture to function properly, and staring at screens all day long tends to dry them out. People tend to blink less often while using computer screens, so training yourself to blink more often while working is an easy way to reduce digital eye strain as blinking is how your body re-moistens the surface of your eyes.

Aside from blinking, you may also want to shop around for artificial tears or lubricating eye drops, which can help your dry eyes maintain their natural, protective tear-film barrier. If that’s still not enough, or you’re living in a relatively dry environment, using a humidifier is another way to add a bit of moisture to your workspace air (and stop leaving your fan blowing directly into your face).

If you wear contact lenses or corrective lenses, you’ll want to make sure you’re cleaning and replacing them and using lubricating drops as often as your optometrist instructs. Wearing contact lenses that are expired, damaged, or simply just covered in eyeball-grime is an easy way to make sure your eye health degrades over time.

Exercise your eyes and adopt healthier habits

Changing your lifestyle is easier said than done, but there are a number of eye-specific exercises you can follow, and many other additional eye health tips you’ll want to look into – most are both affordable and simple to stick with. Improving your eyesight naturally doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to have perfect vision, but our goal here is to reduce any digital eye strain that interrupts your workflow or hobbies.

Fix your posture

You can rest your eyes all you want – if you have poor posture, you may continue to suffer from strained eye muscles. For example, when you slouch in your chair there’s a good chance your eyes focus on the wrong area of the digital screen in front of you. Not only can this slowly lead to things like neck and shoulder pain – by maintaining improper posture, you’re forcing your eyes to move more than they need to.

Sitting in an adjustable chair, using a document holder to prop up physical papers, and investing in high-quality monitors, computer mice, and keyboards are some of the easiest ways to force yourself into better positions while sitting.

How is eye strain treated?

Aside from the recommendations above, the usual prescribed treatment for eye fatigue is rest and relaxation. As obvious as it sounds, preventing vision problems from ever happening is the best way to treat them.

Similar to what we’ve covered above, here are the main long-term management tips you’ll hear from your healthcare provider:

  • Quit smoking, which is known to be harmful for your eyes
  • Use lubricating drops regularly
  • Keep a humidifier running often, especially in dry environments
  • Adjust your lighting as often as needed, don’t wallow in discomfort

When should you see an ophthalmologist?

If you’ve followed all of these suggestions, you’ve tried using artificial tears, and you’re still suffering from eye strain or fatigue – it may be time to schedule an appointment with an eye-care specialist. Eye strain, fatigue, pain, or sensitivity to light that doesn’t get better over the course of a few hours to a few days could be a symptom of a more serious health issue.

If you’re truly worried about any vision or eye issues, you may want to look over the Mayo Clinic’s recommendations on eye pain related doctor visits. While eye strain may not always be serious, other kinds of eye discomfort should be followed up with an appointment with your eye care provider.

Final thoughts

Eye strain isn’t an issue for everyone, but as we spend our working and lounging hours staring at screens, it’s become a highly relevant problem for many. And while eye strain symptoms can take their toll on our energy levels or productivity, a handful of simple and painless solutions exist that can help you reduce how often your eyes require rest.