Eye Health Central

Eye Strain: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention Techniques

Eye Strain: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention Techniques

Eye Strain: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention Techniques

Eye strain, also known by the term asthenopia, is quite a common condition that occurs when your eyes become fatigued from intense use such as staring at a computer screen for long periods or reading for an extended period of time. Here we explore the causes of eye strain, the symptoms, and the relationship between computer use and presbyopia. Additionally, we will also discuss various prevention techniques, eye exercises, and tips you can use to avoid any potential computer eye strain.

Causes of Eye Strain

Prolonged screen time: Spending too much of your time in front of digital screens, such as computers, smartphones and TV’s can unfortunately lead to eye strain. This is due to the constant focusing and refocusing required by your eyes to read text or images on screens.
Poor lighting: Both Inadequate or excessive lighting can cause eye strain by making it difficult for your eyes to focus and / or adjust to different light levels.
Improper ergonomics: Sitting too close or even too far from a screen, holding a book or device at an awkward angle or even as crazy as it may seem, using a poorly positioned chair can contribute to eye strain.
Uncorrected vision problems: If you have uncorrected vision problems such as nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism, you are then more likely to experience eye strain.
Presbyopia: This age related condition that results in the inability to focus on close objects can also contribute to eye strain.

What are the Symptoms of Eye Strain?

Common symptoms of eye strain include the following:

• Sore, tired or itching eyes
• Blurred, or double vision
• Increased sensitivity to light
• Difficulty concentrating
• Dry or watery eyes
• Headaches
• Neck, shoulder, or back pain
• Computer Eye Strain

Computer eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome or digital eye strain, is a very specific type of eye strain that is caused by prolonged use of digital devices. High visual demands of computer use can cause symptoms such as dry eyes, blurred vision and headaches. Another factor to add to the mix is the fact that the blue light emitted by digital screens can disrupt your sleep patterns and also contribute to eye strain. See here the best contact lenses for computer eye strain.

Does Presbyopia Cause Eye Strain?

Presbyopia is an age related condition in which your eye's lens loses flexibility, making it quite difficult to focus on objects that are close to you. This can cause eye strain, particularly if you engage in tasks that require near vision such as reading or using your mobile or computer/laptop. It is important to address presbyopia with corrective lenses or other treatments to alleviate eye strain.

How to Prevent Eye Strain

• Practice the 20-20-20 rule: Every twenty minutes you should always remember to take a twenty second break by looking at something twenty feet away. This really helps in relaxing the focusing muscles in your eyes which then reduces eye strain.
• Adjust screens: By positioning your screen at about an arm's length away and ever so slightly below eye level, it will ultimately reduce any strain on your neck and eyes.
• Optimise lighting: You should ensure your workspace or home has adequate and balanced lighting to minimise glare and shadows.
• Blink and blink some more: Blinking is amazing! It helps to keep your eyes moist! It also prevents dryness and irritation.
• Use proper eyewear: If you have prescription glasses, make sure they are up-to-date and suitable for computer use. Computer glasses or blue light-blocking lenses could be great aids too.
• Do not hold back on your eye exercises: Performing eye exercises regularly can help you when it comes to alleviating eye strain and maintaining good eye health. Here are some simple exercises you can try in the comfort of your own home:

1. Eye rolls: Gently roll your eyes in a circular motion, clockwise and counter-clockwise to help stretch and strengthen your eye muscles.
2. Palming: Rub your hands together to generate heat and then gently cup your palms over your closed eyes. But without applying pressure. Allow your eyes to relax in the darkness for a few minutes. This helps relieve stress and tension.
3. A Near-far focus: Hold your thumb about 10 inches from your face, more or less and try to focus on it for a few seconds. Then make sure to shift your focus to an object about 20 feet away for a few seconds. Repeat this process several times in order to help improve your eyes' focusing ability.
4. Pencil push-ups: Hold a pencil at arm's length and very slowly bring it closer to your nose while maintaining your focus on the pencil tip. But you have to stop when the pencil appears doubled and then return it back to arm's length. Repeat this around 10 times to help strengthen your eye muscles.

How to Prevent Computer Eye Strain

• Adjust your screen settings: You should ensure your screen’s brightness, contrast, and text size are set at good comfortable levels. This will help reduce any strain on your eyes you may be experiencing while using a computer.
• Glare reduction: You should position your screen to minimise glare from windows or lights, and consider using a matte screen protector to further reduce glare.
• Use proper ergonomics: Set up your desk and chair to promote good posture, and maintain a comfortable viewing distance from your screen to reduce eye strain.
• Take frequent breaks: Remember to take regular breaks from screen time using the 20-20-20 rule and exercise to help alleviate eye strain and maintain overall health.

Managing Your Screen Time Before Sleeping

Nowadays everyone is increasingly becoming more aware of the importance of sleep, and in turn most of us recognise the role that digital devices and their screens have in disrupting the quality of our sleep. Of course, managing sleep is an essential part of our routine and good sleep practice, one factor to consider is the amount of time that you are exposed to blue light emitted from digital screen devices before your bedtime.

So what is Blue Light and does it affect our Health?

Blue light is a type of light that is present in our natural environment and also emitted from digital screens. It has been known to disrupt our biological and circadian rhythms, which can then cause negative side effects like sleep disturbances, eye strain and fatigue. One of the only and most critical steps in reducing your blue light exposure is to try to limit your exposure to digital device screens at least an hour before you intend to go to sleep. This is a great way to minimize all the negative impacts of blue light exposure and to ensure a calm, restorative sleep.


Taking good care of our eyes is essential as with any other parts of our bodies and health. Understanding the causes, symptoms and effects of blue light exposure is critical in order to take any and all necessary steps to prevent them. Incorporating simple tactics like practicing the 20-20-20 rules and limiting our exposure to screens before bedtime can help us to minimise eye strain, improve our eye health, improve our quality of sleep and ensure that our digital experiences are good ones. 

Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 3 Apr 2023, Last modified: 20 May 2024