man straining his eyes

Causes and symptoms of eye strain

If your eyes often feel heavy and you’re finding it tricky to focus, you likely have an eye strain. Also known as asthenopia, it’s a fairly common issue in the modern, digital age when most people tend to spend a large proportion of their days staring at a phone, computer, or tablet.

While eye strains can be easy to treat simply by resting your eyes or taking drops, it’s worth knowing how to avoid them altogether, too. That’s because long-term eye strains could lead to more severe vision problems.

Wondering what an eye strain feels like and what exactly causes it? Read on…

Five signs that your eyes are strained1

  • They feel dry and irritated.
  • They’re particularly sensitive to light.
  • You have blurred or double vision.
  • You have a headache.
  • You experience shoulder or neck pain.

What are the most common causes of eye strains?2

Eye strain causes are relatively straightforward and more often than not come down to your use of electronic devices. As people of all ages typically look at a screen every day, eye strains are something which can affect both kids and adults.

In general, the most common causes of eye strains include:

  1. Staring at a screen without blinking.
  2. Focusing on one task for too long, whether that’s reading, writing, or driving.
  3. Poor lighting, especially if you’re trying to focus on something like a book.
  4. Being tired or stressed.
In rarer cases, eye strains can be a symptom of a condition called astigmatism. Astigmatism is when the front of your eyeballs are flatter than they should be, meaning light can focus on more than one place. Common symptoms include blurred vision and eye strains, and it’s typically corrected with glasses or contact lenses.3

How to prevent eye strains

There are some straightforward steps you can take to help eliminate the likelihood of eye strains. These include:4

Limiting your use of screens – this is especially important before you go to bed, as the blue light emitted by most phone and tablet screens can not only cause your eyes to strain but can also overstimulate your brain5.

Having regular breaks – no matter the task you’re working on, it’s a good idea to have a short break every twenty minutes or so to give your eyes a rest.

Improving your lighting – making sure you have adequate lighting if you’re focusing on something for more than five minutes may help prevent eye strains. If you’re using a light-emitting device such as a phone or computer, make sure it’s positioned out in front of you and just below eye level.

Taking a vitamin – there are specific essential vitamins which our bodies need to maintain the health and hydration of our eyes. If you think you might be deficient in some nutrients, it can be worth taking a vision supporting supplements such as cod liver oil.6

For advice on remedies, take a look at our guide to relieving eye strains. Straining your eyes could also be a sign of a more severe issue such as vision loss or macular degeneration, so it’s worth seeing your GP or booking regular eye tests if you persistently have problems.

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Last updated: 23 April 2020

Sources
  1. https://www.specsavers.com.au/help-and-faqs/what-are-the-different-types-of-eye-strain
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/eye-health/eye-strain#causes
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/astigmatism/
  4. https://www.healthline.com/health/eye-health/eye-strain#tips-for-prevention
  5. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/block-blue-light-to-sleep-better
  6. https://www.healthline.com/health/eye-health/eye-health-supplements#supplements
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