While reading this article, do you feel your eyes straining? Chronic eye strain arguably presents one of the most common afflictions of modern civilization. It’s a safe bet that almost everyone experiences eye discomfort after working long hours on a computer or after using various kinds of electronic devices for long periods. Symptoms include sore eyes with periocular pain, slight headache, blurred vision; and in more extreme cases, double vision. In fact, since these symptoms are so common, they have become part of our daily lives and therefore are normally ignored until they get worse and worse from constant overwork.
How does eye strain occur? Is it due only to overuse of our eyes? What consequences will eye strain bring about? We would like to share four very important things you must know about eye strain.
Normally, people don’t associate eyes with muscles. However, all eye movements and major functions, like focus and direction, are controlled by muscles around the eyes. Therefore, in most cases eye strain is a kind of “sports injury” caused by muscle overuse and muscles becoming overly tight, just like any other muscle after a strenuous workout.
Stressing our eyes for too long is certainly one of the major reasons for eye strain. That’s because the muscles responsible for focus are under constant stress. Just like lifting weights that may be too heavy for us, this causes discomfort if it lasts for too long. However, eye strain can’t only be attributed to the length of time you use your eyes intensely, as how you use them also has a significant effect. For example, when we look at a blurred image (e.g. staring at a fast-moving object or reading under insufficient lighting) we place greater stress than usual on our eyes because they need to struggle to stay focused.
Additionally, the refractive error of the eye is also a major reason for eye strain. If your vision becomes blurred or unclear, you should check whether you are near-sighted or have presbyopia. Similarly, if you wear glasses and find your vision worsening, you should also make sure your eyewear prescription is still correct to avoid blurred vision that causes eye strain.
Aside from eye overuse, living habits also have a profound effect on our eyes. For example, most people know that the blue light from electronic devices can cause significant harm to our eyes, but did you know that our body can filter out blue light? The crystalline lens and lutein in the macula possess the ability to filter blue light, but if you consume an imbalanced diet lacking in lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta carotene, the blue light-repelling capabilities of your eyes will decrease.
Similarly, we mentioned earlier that eye strain is mostly caused by stressed eye muscles. Keep in mind that sleep is the most effective way of properly relaxing muscles. In general, eye strain from a day’s work should be relieved by a full night’s sleep of eight hours. As such, if you still feel long term eye discomfort even if you have enough sleep, it is likely that your sleep quality isn’t good, preventing your eyes from fully relaxing.
The most important thing you can do is to properly let your eyes rest when you’re not working. It’s useful to memorize the “20-20-20” rule (for the metric system, that can be changed to the “20-6-20” rule). Simply put, each time you use your eyes intensely for 20 minutes, stop and stare at an object about 20ft (6m) away for 20 seconds. By doing so, you can quite effectively rest your eyes.
In addition, other than rest, creating a comfortable environment for your eyes can also reduce strain. As mentioned earlier, when lighting is insufficient our eyes require more effort to focus. Therefore, using a desk lamp to give our work environment enough lighting is obviously essential. Besides adequate illumination, take care of the brightness level within your field of vision, especially when a screen is the focus of your work. If screen brightness is greater than that of the surrounding environment, it’s easy for eye strain to occur. It’s then necessary to reduce screen brightness or add light to the surrounding environment by using lamps purpose-designed for screen reading.
It is still worth mentioning that eye strain is sometimes a symptom of a serious condition such as macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and others. If your eye strain problem persists for a long time despite efforts to relieve it, make sure to consult an eye doctor as soon as possible.