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How Long Does Eye Strain Last?

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A young girl is rubbing her tired itchy eyes, she experiencing eye strain due to playing video games for a long period of time

Eye strain can affect anyone, regardless of age. As our reliance on technology grows, the chances of our lives being affected by the uncomfortable symptoms that can accompany eye strain go up. 

Fortunately, eye strain doesn’t typically result in permanent damage or discomfort. The symptoms of digital eye strain usually last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours after removing the cause, such as giving your eyes a break from screen time.

If you’re consistently experiencing eye strain symptoms, even with preventative measures, it’s a good idea to see your eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam. Your optometrist can help rule out underlying conditions, such as dry eye disease or an uncorrected refractive error like myopia.

What Is Eye Strain?

Eye strain is commonly known as digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome. It’s essentially muscle fatigue in the eye’s muscles responsible for focusing on objects. 

Many electronic devices we use, such as computers or cell phones, are held relatively close to our faces. As a result, the eye has to work harder to provide clear vision. This muscle fatigue can be aggravated further by some underlying conditions, but it’s important to note that even people with no other vision problems can experience digital eye strain.

Symptoms of Eye Strain

Symptoms of digital eye strain are not typically severe enough to require an emergency visit to your optometrist. They can, however, cause significant discomfort, especially when you need to use your computers, phone, or tablet daily.

Recognizing the symptoms can help you catch digital eye strain early and give your eyes a break. Common symptoms can include:

  • Blurry or double vision
  • Dry or irritated eyes
  • Eye redness
  • Tired eyes

There are also some symptoms you may experience that aren’t directly related to your vision, such as headaches and tense, sore shoulders or neck.

Will Eye Strain Cause Irreversible Damage?

It’s unlikely that digital eye strain will cause permanent damage. However, it can cause significant discomfort, which can affect your life in many ways by making it temporarily difficult to see or needing more frequent breaks at work.

A young woman is massaging her temple with her eyes closed. Taking a break from the computer screen to relax her eyes

Treating Eye Strain

Treatment of digital eye strain typically revolves around symptom relief. But without removing the cause of your sore, tired eyes, such as a computer screen, any treatment you use may not be as effective. The same methods used for prevention are usually adapted as a treatment once an individual begins experiencing eye strain.

Preventing Eye Strain

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to avoid using a computer or cell phone for work, education, or even leisure, so we have to come up with other ways of preventing eye strain. The following tips may help prevent or minimize your experience with digital eye strain.

Take Frequent Breaks

If you’ve ever spent hours at a time on the computer, you’ll understand the value of frequent breaks. But you don’t necessarily need to get up and stop what you’re doing to take an effective break.

Many people practice the 20-20-20 rule, which is simply to take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes. This allows the eye muscles responsible for focusing a chance to relax.

Consider Your Environment

There are many ways to set up your work or living environment to minimize the effects of digital eye strain. For example, dimming the lights can help reduce digital eye strain while watching TV. You can also adjust the brightness of your TV or computer to match the lighting in your environment.

Another environmental factor could be dry air. Having dry eyes could increase the severity of your digital eye strain symptoms. Using a humidifier or lubricating eye drops may help.

Posture & Placement

Many people experience digital eye strain symptoms in their shoulders, neck, and back. By maintaining proper posture, you can minimize this effect. It can also be helpful to position the screen the correct distance from your face—about an arm’s length—and slightly below eye level to prevent having your eyes wide open all the time.

Underlying Conditions That Can Affect Eye Strain Symptoms

While these underlying conditions do not cause digital eye strain or vice-versa, they may be connected in how they can aggravate symptoms:

  • Dry Eye Disease: If you’ve ever experienced dry eyes, you’ll know that many of the symptoms are similar to eye strain, such as dry, scratchy eyes or excessive watering. If you’re already prone to dry eyes, screen time may aggravate these symptoms and you may experience eye strain more quickly without prevention, such as eye drops and breaks.
  • Uncorrected Refractive Errors: Refractive errors are the most common form of vision problem, and they affect more than 150 million people. Unfortunately, they aren’t always diagnosed. An uncorrected refractive error, such as myopia, could cause unnecessary strain when viewing digital screens. This could lead to developing digital eye strain more quickly. 

Dealing with Eye Strain That Won’t Go Away

When the symptoms of digital eye strain strike, a break is often the treatment your eyes need; but if you’re experiencing uncomfortable symptoms frequently or if they won’t go away, there may be more going on than meets the eye.

Give us a call at Eyesis Eyecare Optometrists in Calgary. Our professional team can answer your questions and help you find relief from your symptoms. 


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  • Written by Dr. Kam Dhiman

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