What is Eye Strain?

Words by
Morgan Wilcock

APR 03, 2024

What is Eye Strain?

Eyestrain is a frequent issue that arises when your eyes become fatigued from prolonged use. This common experience can lead to discomfort and reduced vision clarity due to eye overexertion.

Many people worry about eye strain caused by screen time and it isn’t hard to see why. The average American spends around seven hours a day looking at screens, and Gen Z spends up to nine. This time may be spent surfing the internet, chatting with friends and family over text, or doing schoolwork.

But what does so much screen time do to a person’s vision? Is eye strain from screens different from other types?

Causes of Eye Strain

According to the Cleveland Clinic, eye strain can happen any time that a person is intensely using their eyes, like when reading or staring at a screen for work.

“When we look at something close-up, such as a computer screen or a cellphone, the lens of the eye naturally contracts. If you’re looking at a screen for prolonged periods, the lens doesn’t have the chance to relax, which can lead to eye fatigue.”

Dr. Esen K. Akpek, MD

The intense focus required while driving, playing video games, sewing and crafting, and working in low light may result in less blinking, which can cause eye strain as well. 

Symptoms of Eye Strain

Intense eye focus over long periods of time can cause uncomfortable eye strain symptoms. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology lists the following eyestrain symptoms:

  • Achey or tired eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Headache
  • Muscle fatigue from squinting
  • Blurred vision

What Does Eye Strain Feel Like?

Eye strain can be an uncomfortable experience that makes your eyes feel tired or dry. An eye strain headache could also arise. 

Another symptom that is often attributed to eye strain is neck, shoulder, and back pain that comes from bad posture. These are separate issues. 

How Long Does Eye Strain Last?

Eye strain itself is not a permanent issue and will not ruin your eyesight. If headaches and eye strain continue even with rest, you should probably talk with a doctor. You may need a new eyeglass prescription or contact lenses if you find yourself often squinting at your screen. 

Digital Eye Strain

Eye strain that is caused by prolonged usage of digital devices and computer screens is not any different from eye strain caused by non-digital activities. In fact, blue light — which was long rumored to cause permanent eye damage or to be the root cause of painful eye strain — actually doesn’t cause damage to the eye.

illustration of eyes

While exposure to blue light can disrupt sleep schedules, exposure to digital screens does not cause eye strain on its own. 

How To Relieve Eye Strain

Regardless of whether eye strain actually causes permanent damage, it can still be a highly uncomfortable experience. You may wonder how to fix eye strain, or to prevent eye strain from happening in the first place. Here are five helpful tips. 

1. Follow the 20-20-20 Rule

The 20-20-20 rule is taking a break every 20 minutes to look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This helps your eyes rest from deep focus, lubricates your eyes, and allows you to pause from your current task for a few deep breaths. 

2. Stretch

Some people may attribute the pain that comes from bad posture, such as neck and back pain, as symptoms of eye strain — but these are distinct problems. Be sure to take breaks throughout the day to stretch out any tense muscles and help with pain. 

If you’re experiencing pain after a long day sitting at the computer, set your computer screen at or just below eye level to prevent muscle fatigue that is often associated with eye strain.

3. Artificial Tears

Using artificial tears or eye drops can help combat the dryness that our eyes experience when they’re strained. Artificial tears work by helping the tear film in your eyes work more effectively.

4. Reduce Glare and Reflections

When you have to strain your eyes to see your screen through glares and reflections visible there, eye strain may be worse. You may want to turn off some overhead lights, use blinds or shutters over windows, or place an anti-glare cover over your screen.

5. Sleep

Sometimes you just need to reset and take a nap or go to sleep for the night. This allows your eyes to rest as well, and can help with eye strain symptoms.

What Can Parents Do?

Luckily, eye strain — and especially digital eye strain — is not too concerning, since prolonged exposure to screens hasn’t been shown to impact overall sight. 

However, excessive screen time can contribute to mental health issues, procrastination, and exposure to inappropriate content

It’s important that we empower our kids to use tech safely and responsibly. Gabb devices don’t allow for the typical time-wasting apps and games so kids can stay connected without excessive screen time. 

What do you think? How do you and your family deal with eye strain? Let us know in the comments below!

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