When you spend long hours working on the computer, reading a book or driving, you may experience what some would call eye strain. But did you know the phrase "eye strain" means different things to different people?
"Eye strain is more of a symptom than an actual condition," explains Laurie Barber, MD, a comprehensive ophthalmologist in Little Rock, Ark. "People use the term differently. One person may mean their eyes are tired or watery, while another may have blurred vision. Some people may have headaches they attribute to eye strain, and others may have facial muscle fatigue from squinting for long periods because they are not wearing the correct glasses."
Eye strain does not injure the eye and does not cause permanent damage, Dr. Barber said. "But it's worthwhile to make simple changes when you are concentrating on a task to increase your eye comfort."
What Causes Eye Strain?
Focusing on a task for long periods without blinking can leave your eyes feeling dry and tired. Eye strain from looking at a computer is no different from strain caused by driving or reading for hours. Sitting near a vent that is blowing hot or cold air in your face can quickly dry out your eyes.
An incorrect prescription for glasses or contacts can cause blurriness, worsening the sensation of eye strain, Dr. Barber said. Working in an environment that is too bright or not bright enough also can tire the eyes.
"If we have poor posture when we do tasks, it can cause neck, shoulder and back pain, which can add to the discomfort we feel and some people may attribute it to eye strain," she added.
Tips for Office Workers
Simple adjustments to your workspace can stave off eye strain from prolonged computer use. Keep a bottle of artificial tears handy and place a humidifier next to your desk. Adjust your computer screen so your eyes gaze slightly downward. If you have trouble seeing your screen, ask your doctor about computer glasses. These progressive lenses are specifically designed for focusing on computer screens, which are usually positioned about 20 to 26 inches away from the face.
And don't forget to follow the "20-20-20" rule: Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds.
Eye Comfort in the Driver's Seat
Dr. Barber suggests these tips to reduce eye strain while driving:
When Should I See an Ophthalmologist?
If you're still experiencing eye strain after adjusting your workspace, your ophthalmologist can help. At your visit, describe your eye symptoms, including when they happen and how long they last. Your doctor will check for dry eye, examine your eye muscles and explore whether you need a new prescription for eyeglasses or contacts.