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What causes eye strain and eye fatigue?

Eye strain and eye fatigue have, unfortunately, become a very common problem in modern-day life. With more and more people working long hours staring at a computer screen (and when they’re not staring at a computer screen, staring at a smartphone or a TV) our eyes are under increasing pressure to handle the huge workload.

The amount of strain you put on your eyes is determined by factors such as the: Eye strain and eye fatigue

  • time spent doing an activity that requires concentration
  • amount of available light (especially when light is too bright or too dark)
  • quality of your eyesight (whether you need glasses or contact lenses).

Causes of eye strain and fatigue

A primary cause of eye strain and fatigue is long hours of computer-based work. But, also, extended use of smartphones and video games can also have the same affect on your eyes.

In essence, any activity that requires you to use your eyes for a long period of time in a similar focal range can cause problems. These activities include:

  • reading (a book or a computer screen)
  • writing (on paper or on a computer)
  • driving a car.

Digital devices and less blinking

Studies have shows that when we look at digital devices such as computer screens and smartphones we actually blink less frequently than when we look at a book or out a window at natural scenery. This reduced amount of blinking means our eyes are not being lubricated as often, and this can lead to dry, irritated and red eyes.

Signs and symptoms of eye strain and fatigue

Signs that your eyes are under excess strain or have become fatigued include 1 or more of the following:

  • irritated or sore eyes
  • itching eyes
  • burning, red eyes
  • trouble focusing
  • dry eyes
  • watery eyes
  • blurred vision
  • double vision
  • extra sensitivity to light
  • pain in your shoulders, back and/or neck
  • headaches.

Get your eyes tested

If you are experiencing symptoms of eye strain and eye fatigue, you should get your eyes tested by an optometrist.

Especially if you have increased the amount of computer-work you do in recent years, your vision may have changed or started to deteriorate and could benefit from vision correction.

By simply wearing reading glasses or contact lenses you can dramatically reduce the stress and strain on your eyes and eliminate many symptoms of fatigue.

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How to prevent eye strain and eye fatigue

Eye strain and eye fatigue are very common problems for people who do a lot of computer-based work. And let’s face it, these days, that’s a lot of people! As computer-based work has increased—along with Smartphone use—our eyes are spending more time looking at digital screens and devices than ever before.

However, there are many things you can do to reduce eye strain and eye fatigue, most of these involve simple adjustments.

1. Get your eyes tested

The best way to prevent eye strain and eye fatigue is to make sure that your eyes aren’t working any harder than they need to be. Extended computer-work without glasses or contact lenses when your eyes really need them (or with a prescription that no longer suits your needs) is a sure-fire recipe for problems.

Book in with an optometrist for a full eye exam and explain to them how much time you spend in front on the computer at work and at home.

2. Set up your work station properly

If you work in a medium-large sized business, it’s likely there’ll be someone dedicated to workplace health and safety. Contact this person and request any information (including diagrams) of how best to set up your desk and work station. How to prevent eye strain and eye fatigue

You may find that you need to do things like:

  • change the distance your computer screen sits from your face
  • raise or lower your computer screen so it is at the correct eye level
  • adjust your desk chair, desk height, and even get a foot rest to make sure you have correct posture.

3. Reduce glare

Any excess glare coming from your computer screen or surroundings will quickly put a strain on your eyes.

To reduce glare, consider things like:

  • adjusting the ‘brightness’ setting on your monitor
  • buying an anti-glare screen to go over your monitor
  • repositioning your computer so you are not looking at bright walls or windows behind the screen
  • closing blinds or curtains so that you minimise light coming from outside.

4. Adjust the display settings on your computer monitor

It might sound obvious, but many people put up with far-from-ideal display settings on their computer monitor, which could be contributing to eye strain and eye fatigue.

In particular, look at adjusting the:

  • brightness setting
  • contrast
  • colour temperature.

As well as these, you should also consider changing the text and font size of documents, such as Microsoft Word, so you can easily read them without straining.

5. Exercise your eyes and blink more

To reduce eye fatigue you should look away from your computer screen approximately every 20 minutes and look at something in the distance, for example out a window, for at least 20 seconds.

Digital screens cause us to reduce the amount of blinking we naturally do, so if you feel your eyes becoming dry and irritated, try to remember to blink more when staring at your screen.

6. Take regular breaks

Taking regular breaks is not only good to relax and reset your eyes, it’s also recommended as a general workplace health and safety practice for your whole body.

Try to stand up every 30-60 minutes. You can walk to the photocopier, the kitchen for a cup of tea, or take the opportunity to walk over to a work colleague and talk to them face-to-face rather than sending an email. Regular breaks can work wonders for eye strain and eye fatigue.

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Why are headaches and eyesight problems related?

The causes of headaches and migraines are many and varied, but a common trigger is eyesight problems.

You might not immediately associate headaches with your eyesight and, instead, reach for painkillers to relieve the symptoms. Or, sadly, you may come to accept headaches as an annoying, draining part of life. The good news is that if it is your eyes that are the problem, then you can wave goodbye to painful, frequent headaches. To find out, start by getting your eyes tested.

So why are headaches and eyesight problems related? Well, headaches can be caused by squinting or straining your eyes to see clearer.

Many people don’t even realise when they are squinting to compensate for slowly declining eyesight, as over time it becomes automatic. But even a slight squint repeated enough times could lead to a headache. Especially if you work in a job where you spend long hours staring at a computer screen, a smart phone and/or small print in books, it’s likely that your headaches are being caused by eyesight problems. Why are headaches and eyesight problems related


Eyestrain and refractive errors

Eyestrain is caused by the tiny muscles in your eyes working harder than they should. Your lens and cornea combine to focus what you are looking at onto the retina at the back of your eye, creating clear images. When this system isn’t working 100% correctly (due to an eye condition or over-working) it may lead to blurry vision, sore eyes and headaches.

Refractive errors: common eyesight problems

Refractive errors are common eyesight problems that, if left untreated, may lead to headaches and migraines. Most refractive errors can be easily corrected with glasses or contact lenses.

The main refractive errors that can cause eyestrain and headache are:

  • astigmatism—causes blurry or distorted vision. This results from an irregular shaped cornea. If you have astigmatism, you’re likely to squint to focus your vision, which can cause headaches
  • hyperopia—commonly called ‘long-sightedness’. Objects at close range become difficult to see clearly. You may squint to try to see objects properly, causing headaches. Can occur at any age.
  • myopia—commonly called 'short-sightedness'. Objects at long range become difficult to see clearly. Has been strongly linked to improper reading habits, working at close distances for extended periods of time and working in poor lighting conditions.
  • presbyopia—occurs as you get older, and comes from a Greek word that means ‘aging eye’. As with hyperopia (long-sightedness) if you have presbyopia, you lose the ability to see objects clearly at close range. This is due to the decreasing flexibility in the eye with age. This can cause headaches.

See a doctor for headaches

If you are suffering from regular headaches, regardless of what you believe the cause might be, it’s vital to see a doctor to rule out any serious issues.

If the doctor believes that your headaches may be caused by eyesight problems, they will refer you to an optometrist.

Even if you already wear glasses or contact lenses, remember that your eyesight can change gradually over time and you may need to update your prescription to meet your current eyesight needs. Regular eyesight tests are important.

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