Eye strain

Tired, overworked eyes? Find the causes, symptoms and remedies to eye strain

Kate Harris

Eye Health Advisor
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An introduction to eye strain

Eye strain refers to a condition where the eyes become tired from intensive or ‘over’ use. This can include reading in dim lighting or excessive lighting, driving a car for long periods of time, or using a computer for a long period of time.

While annoying and uncomfortable it is generally not a serious condition, though over a sustained period it can begin to cause headaches or affect eyesight.

What are the symptoms of eye strain?

There are a number of unpleasant symptoms of eye strain, which usually go away once you have rested your eyes.

  • Eye discomfort
  • Headaches
  • Sore, burning, itchy or dry eyes. This is because when looking at the same object for a long time, particularly if up close, we tend to blink less, which dries the eyes out.
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Watery eyes – this is often a reaction to the development of dry and itchy eyes, as the eyes try to lubricate and protect themselves, and can end up overcompensating
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased sensitivity to light.

What are the causes of eye strain?

Eye strain is caused by a number of factors, but we can generally say that it is caused by looking at a single object for too long, too close, or in unsuitable lighting. The most common causes are:

  • Reading – reading up close for long periods of time can cause eye strain, especially in dim light
  • Driving – driving for long periods of time can cause eye strain as the eyes are generally focused on the same distance for most of the journey. This is particularly exacerbated by bright light or glare, for example from a low sun or bright sun
  • Computer use – this is one of the most common causes of eye strain. Similarly to reading and driving, this is caused by the eyes focusing on the same point for too long, but is often made worse by glare, small text, or brightness. Computer eye strain also covers the use of smart phones, tablets, TVs and games consoles
  • Deteriorating eyesight – eye strain is sometimes a sign that your eyesight is deteriorating and you may need glasses, particularly if your eye strain is accompanied by headaches. If you need glasses but aren’t wearing them, or are wearing the wrong kind, your eyes will struggle to focus properly, which causes strain.

What can I do to prevent eye strain?

The most effective treatment for eye strain is usually self-help techniques to reduce the strain you put on your eyes. There are a number of preventative measures you can take to ensure your eyes don’t become strained:

  • The 20-20-20 rule is particularly important for reducing eye strain: every 20 minutes, you should refocus your eyes on something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This will give your eyes a break and allow them to relax. Every hour or so try taking a slightly longer break – go to the bathroom, make a cup of tea or take a five minute walk and use this time to relax your eyes
  • If possible, use an anti-glare screen on your computer. Increasing font size and trying to match the brightness of your monitor to your surroundings will also help
  • Get your eyes tested – this will allow you to find out if your eye strain is resulting from poor eyesight and the need to wear glasses
  • Remember to blink – this may sound silly but it is important to remember to blink regularly while using computers, driving or reading, to prevent your eyes from drying out
  • When in bright sunlight, particularly while driving or reading, it is important to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful UVA rays, but also to prevent eye strain from glare or excessive lighting.

Are there any herbal or natural remedies that might help?

Euphrasia (Eyebright) is a herb that has been traditionally used to treat eye problems since the 14th century. We recommend using Euphrasia in eye drop form, for example the A.Vogel Eye Drops, which are great for tired, irritated and dry eyes. While this won’t treat your eye strain, it will help to relieve symptoms.

If you feel that your eyesight could be better, try our Vision Complex, which contains zinc and lutein, which are essential for maintaining healthy eyes and vision by aiding the absorption of vitamins such vitamin A and vitamin C, which are necessary for good eyesight. For an extra boost of vitamin C, try our vitamin C supplement.

Conventional treatments

There are generally no medical treatments for eye strain, unless this strain is being caused by an underlying factor, for example needing to wear glasses.

If you still experience significant eye strain despite making changes to prevent it, it is best to consult your GP to identify any underlying causes.

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