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What is Eye Strain?

By Susan Grindstaff
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Eye strain is generally defined as a condition where strain is put on the muscles that control the eye. This type of strain can be caused by a variety of things, but most commonly is associated with reading, computer use, and other activities that involve peering at small items. Sewing and craft work are also commonly associated with eye strain. A certain amount of eye muscle strain is considered normal, and often causes no permanent damage to sight, but repeated overuse of eye muscles can cause damage that could lead to surgery or the need to use glasses to improve vision.

Many people who complain of eye strain sometimes feel pain or soreness in or around the eye. They often complain that their eyes feel tired and dry. Headaches and blurred vision may also accompany the condition. The muscles that control sight are much like other muscles in the body, and overworking them often has the same symptoms.

One simple way to avoid putting unnecessary strain on the eye is to make sure and rest the eyes periodically when involved in tasks that may cause strain. Whenever possible, it is probably a good idea to take precautions to prevent overworking the eye muscles. In addition, using eye drops throughout the day may also help reduce strain.

Certain types of lighting may also contribute to this condition. Studies seem to show that continued exposure to fluorescent light may be harder on the eyes than other types of lighting. Fluorescent lights have continual changes in intensity, and though these changes are nearly imperceptible, they can cause the eye to strain without the person even being aware it is occurring. In offices and work spaces that use fluorescent lighting, it is recommended that workers also be given incandescent lamps near their workstations to help reduce the stress on the eyes.

Some exercises have been developed that may help relieve this condition. One such exercise, called palming, involves covering the eyes with the palms of the hands for about three minutes. The eyes should be so tightly covered that nothing is visible. This exercise should be repeated until the eyes no longer feel tired.

Another exercise that may help relieve eye fatigue involves closing the eyes and keeping them closed for about nine seconds, and then repeating the process about a dozen times. Eye exercises are generally easy to do and can be performed most anywhere. They are believed to force the eyes to rest, and may induce the eyes to produce their own lubrication.

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Discussion Comments
By anon968149 — On Sep 01, 2014

I started a new job two months ago and am riddled with headaches and borderline migraines! I feel sick every day and even had my light above my desk removed because it was just too bright. Right now as I am typing this I can feel a burning sensation behind my eyes. My eyes get so sore and dry I feel like I cannot concentrate on anything.

I went for an eye test last month and everything was fine - I am currently on Propranolol to prevent migraines and headaches but so far to no avail. I also commute for 1 1/2 hours each way per day currently and that driving is just terrible for my eyes.

By anon326492 — On Mar 22, 2013

The comments on here are most helpful an valid. Proper lighting is important, along with not reading too much tiny text. Ban the tiny text!

I have suffered eye strain before and got my vision to improve again. I use pale pink (slimline - in a tube) glasses when working with computer screens. They are narrow, so if I look down at the keyboard, the view is normal. Yet I see through them as I look at the monitor. I use them for watching TV, too. I use them if my eyes are generally tired/strained for driving when the daylight isn't bright enough for stronger sunglasses.

They have helped me tremendously and helped save my sight. I found mine on eBay. It could work for you! Glad to share! Wishing all a lovely day, with a great view! --MessengerTC

By golf07 — On Jul 11, 2012

Sometimes you can't do much about the overhead lighting in a room, but there are several other lighting products you can buy for your desk or close up work.

I always make sure I have a bright light on my desk next to my computer - both at work and at home. Being in a well lit room makes a big difference in how well my eyes feel after a long day. If the room is dark and poorly lit, I feel a lot of eye strain by the end of the day.

I also like to use bright lights like this when I am working on crafts. This kind of work can be just as taxing on my eyes, and having the correct lighting makes all the difference in the world.

By andee — On Jul 10, 2012

For me, eye strain and a headache seem to go hand in hand. I rarely get a headache, and when I do, it is usually because I have been putting too much strain on my eyes.

At this point, not only are my eyes strained, but I am usually tense throughout my whole body. This is when I know it is time to relax and take a break.

Like many people, much of my day is working in an office in front of the computer. It can be hard to find other things to do that don't involve staring at the computer all day long.

On the weekends I try to stay off the computer as much as possible. I figure this gives my eyes a good break.

By bagley79 — On Jul 10, 2012

I had laser vision surgery on my eyes a few years ago, and ever since then my eyes have been dry and get strained easier. I find that I cannot work in front of the computer as long as I used to.

I keep a bottle a eye drops and use them several times throughout the day. As soon as I put the drops in, I can feel a sense of relief. When my eyes are strained and feel dry, I find it hard to read. It doesn't matter if it is working at the computer or reading a book.

I do better if I space this type of work out. After working at the computer for a couple hours, I will get up and do something that doesn't require me to focus so intently with my eyes.

One thing about eye muscles is that they recover quickly, so when I give them a break, they are ready to be used again.

By myharley — On Jul 09, 2012

One of the first symptoms of eye strain I notice is finding my eyes will not focus on small print. I work at the computer all day long and even find myself going home and spending time on the computer after work.

If I have a particularly long day, my eyes really let me know and force me to take a break. I can keep pushing for awhile, but eventually I need to stop using them for such detailed work.

Not only do my eyes feel tired and strained, but it is also much easier to make mistakes when I let them get too strained. The best remedy I have found for eye strain is to just stay away from the computer or any kind of close up work for awhile.

By Kristee — On Jul 08, 2012

I started having vision problems after working at a desk job for a year that involved designing ads all day on a computer. My eyes would get really sore about halfway through the day, and I even developed an eye twitch.

The twitch was totally involuntary, and it would occur at the most inconvenient times. I would be working on a complex ad, and I would almost be finished when the twitch would arrive. I could still see in spite of it, but it annoyed me and distracted me.

Eventually, I got to where I could not read small print or even regular print from a normal distance. I had to get prescription glasses.

By JackWhack — On Jul 08, 2012

Sometimes, having to stare at things really intently can cause eye pain. When I was taking art classes in college, we were taught to look very closely at every detail of our subjects while drawing them.

I really strained my eyes while we were learning to draw shadows. I had no idea that there were so many shades of gray between black and white, but the teacher showed us a chart of the shades, and we had to use the chart to draw all the shadows on a white egg.

We also had to draw all the shadows that the egg cast onto the white table beneath it. It wasn't simple at all, and my eyes really started to ache as I tried to distinguish between all the gray shades.

By seag47 — On Jul 07, 2012

@cloudel – I had computer eye strain, and like you, it was due in part to fluorescent lighting. I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I had plenty of electrical outlets at my desk, so I brought a lamp from home that held an incandescent light. I put a 75 watt bulb in it, and this was bright enough to help me see without being so bright that it might cause a headache.

The lamp emitted a steady stream of light, and this counteracted the constant flickering of the fluorescent lights. My eyes felt so much better, and my boss didn't mind me having the lamp once I explained to him that I needed it to prevent eye strain.

If for some reason your boss won't allow you to have a lamp at your desk, there is one other thing you can try. Zoom in close on whatever you are working on, and that way, you will eliminate any strain related to trying to read small words or numbers. It won't fix the fluorescent light situation, but it will take extra strain off your eyes, and every little bit counts.

By cloudel — On Jul 06, 2012

I have been having computer eye strain symptoms, but I'm not sure what I can do to fix the situation. My office uses only fluorescent lighting, and I'm sure they are too cheap to install a fixture that could hold an incandescent bulb near my workspace.

I don't believe that I need glasses, because I can still read just fine from both far away and up close. I've just been having soreness behind my eyes, and sometimes, I get headaches near my eyes. They do get dry, but shutting them for a few seconds seems to help.

I just don't want to end up needing glasses because of the lighting at my job. What can I do to prevent this?

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