Eyestrain is a common condition that many people experience, especially in today’s digital age of increased screen time. Spending long hours staring at a computer, phone or tablet, whether it be for work or personal use, can fatigue the eyes. But how long does eyestrain actually last? In this blog post, we will explore which factors play a role in eyestrain, what eye fatigue feels like, and discuss how long the symptoms last.
Understanding Eye Strain
Asthenopia is the medical name for eyestrain or eye fatigue. Eyestrain occurs when the eyes spend too much time focusing on an object or have trouble looking at an object up close or at a distance. When the eyes do not have a chance to relax, eye fatigue and eyestrain set in.
Although it is an annoyance, eyestrain will not damage the eye.
What Causes Eye Strain?
There are many factors that contribute to eyestrain. The most common causes are listed below:
Computer vision syndrome (CVS): CVS occurs when your eyes become fatigued from looking at a computer or other digital screen for an extended period of time. Also called digital eyestrain, it is one of the most common causes of eye strain. Glare and reflections, lack of adequate contrast between letters and the background on the screen, and characters that are not well defined can all make it harder for your eyes to focus compared to viewing the same information on a printed page.
Focusing on a task: Excess stress is put on the muscle in the eye that changes the shape of the lens to focus on nearby objects (ciliary muscle) when focusing on a detailed task for too long, such as sewing or reading a book.
Uncorrected refractive errors: People with nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), presbyopia or astigmatism have vision issues that make the eyes work harder to focus. If these people do not have the proper prescription in their glasses or contacts, eye fatigue is more likely.
Environmental factors: Dim lights or excess glare from bright lights can cause eyestrain. Typically, natural light is better for the eyes than artificial light. Dry conditions can also cause eye fatigue. For example, people who drive for a living may experience eyestrain if air vents are directed at the eyes for an extended period of time.
Eye muscle imbalances: The eyes must work together to create clear binocular vision. Muscle disorders such as convergence insufficiency (the eyes do not adequately align when viewing an object up close), esophoria (the eyes sit slightly inward), or exophoria (the eyes sit slightly outward) can also cause eyestrain.
What Does Eye Strain Feel Like?
Eyestrain does not just feel like having tired eyes. In fact, symptoms can vary from person to person.
Here are some common symptoms associated with eyestrain:
- Blurry vision: Eyestrain can result in images becoming blurry.
- Double vision: While some people experience blurry vision with eyestrain, others start to see double.
- Watery eyes: Eyestrain can cause eyes to become dry, causing the eyes to overcompensate by producing excess tears.
- Headaches: Prolonged eyestrain can give you a headache.
- Facial muscle fatigue: Squinting for prolonged periods can cause facial muscles to become tired.
- Secondary symptoms: Poor posture associated with eyestrain may cause shoulder pain, back pain, or neck stiffness.
- Dryness and irritation: You may experience redness or a burning sensation.
- Difficulty concentrating: Fatigued eyes can make it difficult to focus on routine tasks.
- Light sensitivity: Your eyes may have trouble adjusting to bright conditions.
When Does Eye Strain go Away?
There is not a set rule or timeline for when eyestrain goes away because it depends on the cause. However, eyestrain typically subsides within minutes or a few hours whenever you rest your eyes.
Finding out what is causing eyestrain is the first step to relieving it. For example, if your eyes are fatigued from excessive use of a digital device, eyestrain will resolve when you stop using the device. If you have frequent eyestrain that lasts for hours or days, this may be a sign you have a chronic underlying condition such as dry eye syndrome or a refractive error.
For cases of eyestrain that do not resolve quickly, contact an eye doctor so they can perform a comprehensive eye exam. You may have an underlying medical condition that is causing the eyestrain and needs to be resolved in order for you to find relief.
How to Get Rid of Tired Eyes
For eyestrain that does not require medical attention, there are several ways to improve fatigue on your own.
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Help your eye muscles relax every 20 minutes by looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Use artificial tears: Over-the-counter eye drops can help keep the eyes lubricated.
- Adjust screen brightness: Make sure your computer, tablet, or phone screen has the proper brightness. Screens that are too dim or too bright can strain the eyes.
- Use adequate lighting: The lighting you use to read or work should be free of reflections or glare.