Overview

Eyestrain is a common condition that occurs when your eyes get tired from intense use, such as while driving long distances or staring at computer screens and other digital devices.

Eyestrain can be annoying. But it usually isn't serious and goes away once you rest your eyes or take other steps to reduce your eye discomfort. In some cases, signs and symptoms of eyestrain can indicate an underlying eye condition that needs treatment.

Symptoms

Eyestrain signs and symptoms include:

  • Sore, tired, burning or itching eyes
  • Watery or dry eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Headache
  • Sore neck, shoulders or back
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling that you cannot keep your eyes open

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if self-care steps don't relieve your eyestrain.

Causes

Common causes of eyestrain include:

  • Looking at digital device screens
  • Reading without pausing to rest your eyes
  • Driving long distances and doing other activities involving extended focus
  • Being exposed to bright light or glare
  • Straining to see in very dim light
  • Having an underlying eye problem, such as dry eyes or uncorrected vision (refractive error)
  • Being stressed or fatigued
  • Being exposed to dry moving air from a fan, heating or air-conditioning system

Computer and digital device use

Extended use of computers and other digital devices is one of the most common causes of eyestrain. The American Optometric Association calls this computer vision syndrome, or digital eyestrain. People who look at screens two or more hours in a row every day have the greatest risk of this condition.

Computer use strains eyes more than reading print material because people tend to:

  • Blink less while using computers (blinking is key to moistening the eyes)
  • View digital screens at less than ideal distances or angles
  • Use devices that have glare or reflection
  • Use devices with poor contrast between the text and the background

In some cases, an underlying eye problem, such as eye muscle imbalance or uncorrected vision, can cause or worsen computer eyestrain.

Some other factors that can make the condition worse include:

  • Glare on your screen
  • Poor posture
  • Setup of your computer workstation
  • Circulating air, such as from air conditioning or a nearby fan

Complications

Eyestrain doesn't have serious or long-term consequences, but it can be aggravating and unpleasant. It can make you tired and reduce your ability to concentrate.

Oct. 18, 2018
References
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  5. Ergonomics — Good for everybody. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.ors.od.nih.gov/sr/dohs/HealthAndWellness/Ergonomics/Pages/prevention.aspx. Accessed Sept. 12, 2018.
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