Eye Strain Causes | Understanding Why Your Eyes Feel Fatigued
Eye strain causes range to include everything from looking at screens for too long to not blinking enough. Finding out why your eyes feel so tired is the first step to solving the problem. Rest assured, we are here to help you get to the bottom of your eye strain causes.
Christine works for a pharmaceutical company. Part of her job is to analyze spreadsheets to see if the appropriate number of flu vaccines will be sent to the medical clinics in her territory. The work is tedious, and as she works into the evening, her neck stiffens as she hunches over her computer screen. Her forehead creases as she squints to read the numbers; her shoulders are tight. After a long day, she drives home in the dusk. It’s raining, and the traffic is horrendous. The headlights of the cars shine on the pavement and make it difficult to see details around her.
When Christine gets home, her husband is waiting for her so they can go to the gym for their cycle and core class. As soon as Christine walks into the house, her husband can tell by the look on her face that he will be going to the gym alone tonight. Even though Christine would feel a lot better after physical exertion, she holds back from going because she feels exhausted. What Christine is really suffering from is eyestrain. Sore, tired eyes can affect how your whole body feels, and in Christine’s case, tired eyes keep her from taking care of her body by exercising.
What are the symptoms of eye fatigue? What causes eyestrain? How can it be prevented? Once you have it, how can eyestrain be treated?
What is Eyestrain?
If you are looking for attention, post on Facebook that you are suffering from asthenopia. Make sure you add a sad or teary face to your post and watch as your notifications go crazy. As your friends reassure you that they will be there for you, regardless of what you are battling, you can be encouraged that asthenopia usually is no cause for alarm. If you couldn’t guess, asthenopia is the Greek word for “weak-eye condition,” in other words, eyestrain. Though, if strange things are happening with your eyes, and you have other symptoms such as shortness of breath or strange pains, contact your doctor immediately.
You may have eyestrain, or eye fatigue, and not even realize it. It could be affecting your activity level, but instead of rightfully blaming your eyes, you instead think you are just “tired.” Symptoms of eyestrain vary from person to person, but here are some of the symptoms of which you should be aware: sore, tired, burning, or itchy eyes. Some may experience watery eyes, and some may have dry eyes. Others may notice blurred or double vision. Just like vampires, those suffering from eyestrain can also be sensitive to light. Not to alarm you, but if you have this light sensitivity and can’t stand garlic, you may have cause for concern.
Related: Digital Eye Strain
Interestingly enough, eyestrain doesn’t just affect the eyes. Those suffering from eyestrain may complain of a headache, a sore neck, shoulders, or back. As your body exerts energy on focusing on small print, your brow may furrow, and you may lean forward to get closer to the text. All these small movements can cause the extra side effects you may be experiencing. Eyestrain or fatigue can affect your mental wellbeing also. You may have a difficult time concentrating or focusing on your task. You may even feel that you cannot keep your eyes open.
A Deeper Look at the Causes of Eye Strain
Chances are that you are looking at one of the biggest causes of eye strain right now. In fact, computers and other electronic devices with screens cause so much eye fatigue, that Web MD has a name for the discomfort from staring at a screen: Computer Vision Syndrome. Those of us with jobs that require us to look at a screen most of the day may be suffering from Computer Vision Syndrome. Experts say that almost everyone has some symptoms of eye fatigue caused by computers, especially if you look at a computer screen for more than two hours at a time.
This problem is exacerbated because people forget to blink while staring at their screens. I bet you are blinking more since reading the last sentence. I read once that it is a good idea to put a post-it note on your computer screen that reminds you to blink. Only try this strategy if your eyestrain is particularly prevalent and if you don’t mind people making fun of you. If any of my co-workers had a note on their laptop saying, “blink,” I would completely mock them. All the time. Many professions may have difficulty with this type of eyestrain, but those dealing with data and numbers on spreadsheets would have a particularly difficult time with eye fatigue.
Related: Eye Strain Headache
Watching television for an extended period can cause eyestrain, as well. For those of you binge watching New Girl or The Office right now (and reading about eye strain at the same time), blink!
At the risk of getting too technical, it is worth reporting that there is another reason that computer and television screens can cause eye fatigue. These devices emit mostly blue light. This blue light is necessary because it helps users to adjust the brightness of their displays. For some reason, blue hues have a wavelength that is harder on the eyes than red or orange tones. Please note that all blue light isn’t bad for you. While blue light between 380 and 470 mn can be hard on the eyes and affect sleep patterns, blue light from 470 to 500 nm is good for you. This good blue light protects the eyes, helps with sleep, and helps improve memory.
The bad blue light can cause more than eyestrain though. This light can affect your memory and thus make it harder to learn. The blue hues coming from your computer and smartphone screen can keep you from getting the quality sleep your body deserves. If your body clock is thrown off by light exposure, you may be more prone to depression. There also may be evidence that this harmful blue light can lead to cataracts.
You may not think that your sleep is being affected by blue light; it could be you already receive eight hours of sleep and feel refreshed when you wake up in the morning, but how do you know you are receiving quality sleep? Perhaps your body only requires seven hours of quality sleep, but you have to have eight hours of so-so sleep because your body is reacting to computer use, especially later at night.
I don’t want to sound as if technology causes all the evils of the world. That’s my grandmother’s job. Other causes of eyestrain may include other types of reading – on pieces of paper, in the form of a book. Real books still exist, you know? Keep the printed word alive, but just make sure you follow some of the strategies in the next section of this article to alleviate eyestrain. Heads up, you English teachers out there! Plans to keep your eyeballs healthy are in the next section.
Related: Eye Strain Symptoms
Another cause of eye fatigue is driving or doing other activities where you are required to look into the distance for an extended period of time. Those of you working as truck drivers, lifeguards, or in road construction may experience eye fatigue because you are always looking ahead. They also run a higher risk of eye fatigue because they are working outside.
Speaking of working outside, being exposed to bright lights or glares can also make it tricky to protect your eyes from fatigue. There seems to be a genetic component to this as well. Some people have “blonde” eyes that make them super sensitive to regular interaction with the sun. Welders, of course, also are exposed to bright lights, but hopefully, they are following OSHA guidelines when working and protect themselves from the glowing flames.
Just as too much light can cause eye issues, not enough light may be the culprit as well. If you are straining to see an item because the light is too low, you may be setting yourself up for eyestrain issues. My grandma was always way ahead of her time on this piece of advice. She always told me to turn on a lamp to read, “or else I would go blind”. I’m not sure that reading ‘Harriet the Spy’ without a lamp would cause me to go blind, but her warning made me pay attention. No one wanted to end up like Mary in Little House on the Prairie.
Some people may have a medical issue that affects the eyes, so, of course, that may increase the chance of eye fatigue. There are some who are unable to produce tears or saliva which puts stress on their eyes. Some people have horrible seasonal allergies and need to take care of their eyes more during certain times of the year. Some may be so stubborn that they wear the wrong prescription in their glasses for years. We all know that person that proudly proclaims that they haven’t been to the eye doctor in 10 years; they’re the person squinting to see you through scratched-up, unfashionable glasses.
Some of your offices may be causing you to have fatigued eyes. If the air in your office is dry, or if you sit next to a vent or a fan, your eyes may be feeling the effects of this without you realizing it. You may not have control over this situation, though.
Of course, stress and fatigue are other factors for eyestrain, so that means we should all enjoy a few extra days off per year – for the health of our eyes, of course.
How to Avoid Eyestrain Based on Unique Eye Strain Causes
Even though in most cases there are not dangerous or long-term consequences to eyestrain, overworking your eyes can make you feel tired and less productive. How do we treat eyestrain? First, we need to be more aware of our surroundings.
Eye Strain Cause: Watching TV
Let’s start with discussing eyestrain caused by watching television. There are several ways we can prevent this. Try to leave a light on while watching TV. This is better on your eyes, and you can see that guacamole that dripped down your shirt that way. Even though experts do recommend you watch TV with additional lighting, make sure that light is not causing a glare on your screen.
Sit about 8-10 feet away from your television screen. Everyone, go measure the distance between your TV and couch right now. Go ahead . . . the tape measure is in the garage. Did you end up moving your couch? While you are adjusting your furniture, keep in mind that you should not have to look up to watch TV.
Related: Best Eye Strain Glasses
Finally, take a few breaks from the TV. In a world without traditional commercial interruptions, this can be difficult to remember. Consider setting a timer for 20 minutes or so and encourage everyone to stand up, stretch, and focus on something in the distance for a few moments. Stand up, do 10 jumping jacks, and a 10-second plank. Just kidding, I wouldn’t do it either, but it is a nice idea. As a side note, looking at your cell phone screen while watching TV does not give your eyes the break they deserve.
Eye Strain Cause: Working on the computer
Even though TVs and computers can similarly affect your eyeballs, there are a few other ways you can avoid eyestrain while specifically using your computer. Sit about 20-28 inches from your computer screen and pay attention to your posture. A sore back could be telling you that you need to adjust your computer. How? If you are leaning forward to see your computer, is it because you are having a difficult time seeing the screen? This will lead to eyestrain.
Sit in your chair with your rear as far back as it can go. Make sure your knees are lower or at the same height as your hips. Your chair should be ever-so-slightly reclined. Make sure your back and shoulders are supported as well as your lower lumbar region. You should consider getting a lumbar support cushion to help; they feel wonderful.
If you are sitting appropriately but find that as the day progresses you are leaning toward your screen more and more, analyze your screen. Adjust the brightness and contrast of your screen and change the size of the font. As I am typing right now, I changed the view on my laptop to 200%, and it is incredible how much easier it is to see my work. Ask yourself if there are any glares on your screen and determine how to alter the tilt or location of your screen to get rid of them. See if there are screen covers that fit over your workstation to eliminate the glare on your device.
Remember the blue light emitting from your computer screen that I told you about in the last section? There are also ways to avoid it to keep your eyes as fresh as the morning dew. Look at your computer and smartphone settings to set up an evening and night-time setting. This setting, which on Apple products is called the Night Shift, lowers the amount of blue light coming from your screen. Those using devices with traditional blue-light settings suffer from a loss of melatonin that affects the body’s ability to sleep well. The night settings are supposed to combat that by changing the amount of blue light coming from your screen.
Eye Strain Cause: Poor lighting
Another way to reduce eyestrain is to pay attention to the lighting in your room. Even if you are using a digital device to read, the lighting in your room should be as bright, if not brighter, than the device you are using. To put it another way, do not use a computer in a dark room. Your eyes will need to adjust every time you look away from the computer, and this increases the likelihood of eyestrain.
Experts say that most homes are not adequately lit. Chances are, you need to add more task lights to your home. This lighting allows you to adjust and focus the light to where you need it. Think of getting more lights with adjustable arms. Put those adjustable lamps close to where you read. You should use reading lights that are 100 watts.
Eye Strain Cause: Driving
If your eyestrain is from driving, especially at night, consider purchasing a pair of night driving glasses. Be aware that some groups think that these glasses can actually be worse for you than driving without. In theory, night driving glasses are supposed to reduce the glare that comes from driving at twilight and nighttime. Ask your optometrist for advice on if you should invest in some. If you already wear glasses, ask if you can add an anti-reflective coating to them. This may reduce the amount of eye strain when driving at night.
How UV Rays Can Impact Eye Strain
For those working outside or driving during the day, help combat eyestrain by purchasing a quality pair of sunglasses. Always pay attention to the labels. A good pair of sunglasses should block 100% of UVA and UVB rays. This may also be called UV 400, so keep that in mind when reading labels. Make sure your sunglasses are polarized because they cut down on the amount of glare, and guess what glare causes? You’re right – it causes eyestrain. This does not mean that expensive glasses are better than cheaper models, though. As long as they have the correct labeling, good glasses can be affordable for all income levels. The bigger the lens, the more harmful rays are blocked. Think more of Jackie O instead of John Lennon.
You can also reduce the amount of eyestrain by wearing a hat with a bill on it while working or enjoying the outdoors.
Eye Strain Cause: Allergies
Treating your allergies can help avoid eyestrain. Before you are able to treat your allergies and alleviate your eye fatigue, you need to know what type of allergies you have. The most common allergies that affect your eyeballs are reactions to mold, dust mites, pet dander, and pollen. Personal care items, like makeup, and household items, can cause eye issues as well.
If you have allergies, your body produces histamines which a natural chemical that causes swelling and inflammation. Antihistamines help fight the allergies. Typical antihistamines include Zyrtec, Benadryl, and Allegra. There are also antihistamine drops that alleviate those irritating symptoms of itchiness and watery eyes. Other drops can make your eyes less red and swollen.
Another simple way to treat allergies is by showering more often. Showering gets rid of the nasty pollen that grabs onto you while you are outside and follows you indoors. You can also clean your house more often to remove dust particles, or you could hire someone to clean those dust particles out of your house. That makes more sense to me than cleaning a house on your own.
Other ways of reducing eye allergies include wearing sunglasses outside. Sunglasses provide a physical barrier between your eyes and outside allergens. Those suffering from allergy eyes can also try placing a cool washcloth over your eyes to help provide relief from symptoms. If you wear contacts, try giving your eyes a break from them, especially during allergy season. Remember to try not to rub your eyes. Rubbing can cause damage, even if it provides momentary relief.
2 Great Products That Help Combat Eye Strain
As I mentioned before, the blue light may cause eyestrain even during the day. One way to combat this is by using computer glasses. The SightPros computer glasses are a great example.
These glasses have an amber tint that blocks the blue light coming from cell phones and computers. There are other options online for computer glasses, but there aren’t many that come with the added benefit of magnification. If you are already wearing readers while using the computer, why not get some that block the blue lightwaves as well? You will get more bang for your buck. Choose from 0, +.50 D, +1.00 D, +1.50 D, +2.00 D, or +2.50 D.
The company donates a portion of their profits to provide eye care to those in need. Those using the glasses report that they reduce the amount of eyestrain and the symptoms associated with it.
Another way to alleviate eyestrain is with a cold compress or a cooling mask.
MediViz has created a Cold Eye Compress, which can be purchased on Amazon.
This eye compress not only treats eyestrain, but it also helps with allergies, sinuses, headaches, migraines, puffy eyes, and dark rings under the eyes. No, it’s not a miracle cure, but it may make you feel better while resting if you have one of these masks over your eyes. Freeze your mask for at least two hours before using. Place it over closed eyes for 20 minutes or so. Maybe even set an alarm and enjoy a little nap while using the product. You’ll wake up feeling refreshed and free from eye fatigue.
The mask can be purchased on Amazon, and a portion of the sale is donated to those with no access to eye care.
Eye Strain Causes: Is Stress to Blame?
If stress is causing your eyestrain, figure out how to de-stress to release that tension in your eyes. Practice yoga or meditation. If you work indoors all day, consider taking a walk and enjoying the great outdoors. Sit in a dark room and listen to music with your eyes closed. Take a short nap. Play with your dog.
Last Minute Tips
As a review, here are things to remember when taking care of your eyes. They are the only ones you have! Remember to do the following:
- Take frequent breaks. If you have been staring at a computer for 20 minutes, focus your eyes in the distance for twenty seconds before looking back at the screen. You don’t have to quit working while looking away. I can type without looking at the screen and hardly ever make any typing mistakes.
- Pay attention to lighting. Adjust your work lights, so they shine on your subject without causing a glare.
- Sit at the appropriate distance from your television or computer and use good posture.
- Increase the font on your monitor, so you don’t have to squint.
- Consider purchasing computer glasses. Remember the SightPros models can be bought with magnification, which helps relieve eyestrain as well.
- At the very least, change your computer’s settings, so the night mode automatically comes on at dusk.
- Wear polarized sunglasses that block harmful UV rays as well as debris and pollen in the air.
- Consider purchasing nighttime driving glasses or ask about anti-glare options on your prescription lenses.
- Wear a hat with a bill
- Consider medicating your allergy symptoms with either antihistamines or eye drops.
- Treat allergy eyes and eye fatigue with a MediViz Cooling Mask.
- If stress causes your eye fatigue, figure out what is causing the stress in your life and either try to change it or find a way to combat the stress.
- See your optometrist regularly. Ask your doctor other advice on how to treat eye fatigue.
- Don’t let eye fatigue or eyestrain affect your life negatively. Pay attention to how you are working so you have more energy to spend with your friends and family.
And don’t forget to blink. (After all, it’s the easiest tip out there!)