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How Long Does Eye Strain Last?

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A woman sitting in front of her laptop holding her glasses in her right hand while her left hand rests between her eyes displaying discomfort due to eye strain

Eye strain, the feeling of fatigue in the eye, is a common eye condition. Caused by overworking and overusing your eyes, eyestrain often feels like your eyes are heavy, tired, and difficult to use. Fortunately, this condition can be helped by making small changes to your life and consulting your optometrist. But how long does eye strain last?

Eye strain tends to only last for a few hours or so. Eye strain is caused by extended, intense focusing of your eyes, so the symptoms often begin lessening as soon as you stop overworking them. It can help to take breaks often and change your environment to give your eyes a chance to rest.

What Is Eye Strain?

If you’ve ever felt like your eyes are exhausted, tired, or strained, you’ve likely dealt with eye strain before. Eye strain is a common eye problem that develops when you overwork your eyes. Though it’s temporary, it can cause discomfort and frustration when you’re trying to focus.

When you spend a long period of time focusing intently on something nearby—like a computer screen, a small-print book, or a cell phone—your eyes are constantly in a period of focusing and refocusing. Your eyes are focusing on tiny details on the screen and zoning in to read what you’re seeing. 

The longer this is done, the more strain it begins to put on your eyes. And when you’re using digital devices—especially if held near your face—your eyes focus intently on something small for a long time. This means that the point your eyes are focusing on rarely changes, using a specific set of muscles for an extended period of time without a break.

This leads to the muscles being strained from overuse, making it essential to recognize when your eyes are beginning to strain so you can make small adjustments.

A young woman sitting by a window is gently touching her irritated eyes, experiencing the discomfort of eye strain.

How Do I Know If I Have Eye Strain?

The specific symptoms of eye strain can vary from person to person. However, it typically causes:

  • Eye fatigue, almost as if your eyes are heavy and difficult to move
  • Light sensitivity, also called photophobia, due to the constant exposure to bright sources of light
  • Blurry vision, as the eye may temporarily lose the ability to focus on different distances
  • Headaches caused by overworking the muscles in the eye. This typically feels like a tension headache, where there’s tightness and pain around the forehead, temples, and base of the skull.
  • Dry eye syndrome, as most people tend to blink less when using screens for prolonged periods of time

In many situations, eye strain can even begin to affect the muscles in your neck, shoulders, and upper back. When focusing on a screen for too long, many people find themselves slouching or using poor posture. This can lead to strain in the muscles around the neck and shoulders and can cause pain and discomfort. 

It’s important to note, though—many of these symptoms can be caused by other potential conditions. If you notice any of these, you should visit your optometrist so they can perform a comprehensive eye exam to diagnose any potentially developing conditions.

Computer Vision Syndrome

Eye strain can be caused by extended computer usage, often referred to as “computer vision syndrome” or “digital eye strain.” However, even though people may use all 3 of these terms interchangeably, there’s a slight distinction. Digital eye strain is a specific type of eye fatigue caused by the prolonged use of digital devices like:

  • Cell phones
  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Computer monitors

Digital eye strain often causes:

  • Dry eyes
  • Headaches
  • Blurry vision
  • Eye fatigue

The symptoms of digital eye strain are similar to regular eye strain—the difference lies in how the condition develops. Digital eye strain is caused by extended screen exposure, while regular eye strain can be caused by any visually demanding activity ranging from reading a book to focusing on manual work near your face.

Does Eye Strain Go Away?

Even though eye strain can be irritating and uncomfortable, there is good news: this condition does go away once you give your eyes a break.

Eye strain is your eyes telling you they’re overworked and tired, so it can help to stop what you’re doing and give them the rest they need. However, this isn’t always possible. Maybe you need to use a computer for work, or you have a visually demanding project coming up that you can’t just stop working on. 

Tips for Reducing Eye Strain

It can help to make small changes to your environment so it’s more comfortable to spend time in. Try:

  • Adjusting your screen settings to change the brightness and contrast levels
  • Making sure your environment is ergonomic. Set your screen at eye height and avoid slouching where possible. 
  • Changing your lighting if necessary so the area is well-lit
  • Following the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at something roughly 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This can give your eyes the opportunity to readjust and refocus, giving them a moment of relief.
  • Essilor digitime lenses available at Headwaters Optometry are designed specifically for adults. To reduce near vision fatigue associated with extended computer work. 
  • Eyezen lenses provide relief for children and young adults, by reducing eye strain associated with cell phones, tablets and computers. 

However, preventative measures can only go so far. If you find you’re experiencing eye strain on a regular basis, you should visit your optometrist. They can examine your eyes to determine if there may be an underlying problem causing your eye strain.

Where to Get Help for Eye Strain

If you’re experiencing eye strain often, come visit our team at Headwaters Optometry. Our team knows how uncomfortable it can be dealing with eye strain on a regular basis, and we’re here to help. To speak with us today, give us a call or book an appointment online.

Written by Dr. Patrick J. Brodie

Dr. Patrick J. Brodie began practicing optometry in Orangeville and New Hamburg in 1985, after graduating from the University of Waterloo School of Optometry in the same year. He built a base of patients over the next 3 years, and in 1988 he joined his practice with that of Dr. Robert Orr. The partnership allowed the doctors to serve more patients from a larger area and provided the required financial support to bring the newest technologies to their practice.
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