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How Long Does Eye Strain Last?

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Screen use is hard for many of our patients to avoid, and is in many cases essential to daily life. Whether you’re working late into the night on your next project or unwinding by watching multiple episodes of your favourite show, your risk of experiencing digital eye strain can increase.

Eye strain can last for as long as you are performing visual tasks. It typically fades within an hour of taking a break, but the exact amount of time it affects you can vary based on your eye health and how long you were performing visual tasks. 

This condition can be more than a frequent source of frustration—it can also increase your risk of other eye problems, such as dry eyes. At Downtown Vision Care, we can help you determine what’s causing this discomfort, provide advice for managing and preventing it, and support your daily vision needs. 

What Is Eye Strain?

Eye strain occurs when your eyes get tired from intense use. Just as muscles in your body can get tired because of prolonged activity, your eyes can start to feel fatigued when you spend a long time looking at a screen or performing other visual tasks. 

Eye strain is often called digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome because of how often it is caused by prolonged screen use, but eye strain can also be caused by other visual tasks, such as reading in dim light or driving for a long period of time. It’s not typically a dangerous condition, but it can affect your vision and make it difficult to get through your day productively. 

Why Do Screens Cause Eye Strain?

We tend to use digital screens at a relatively short distance, so our eyes are often constantly focusing when we use them—and we often use them for a long time.  The muscles can effectively get ‘stuck’.  We call this accomodative hysteresis.

Some research shows we blink less while staring at a screen—as little as 4 times per minute on average, compared to the regular average of 10-12 times per minute. When we blink, more tears are produced. This simple decrease in blinking  can lead to dry eyes, a common symptom of digital eye strain.

Signs & Symptoms of Eye Strain

Eye strain can be hard to identify because it shares symptoms with other vision issues. During an eye exam, we may ask questions about your lifestyle, such as how often you use screens at work, to help identify the cause of your symptoms. 

Although the effects of eye strain can vary, some of the common symptoms include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Headaches
  • Eye irritation
  • Double vision
  • Dry eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Eye fatigue
  • Watery eyes

Shoulder and neck pain can also occur alongside digital eye strain, often as a result of poor office ergonomics. When you experience these symptoms frequently, that’s an indication you should contact an optometrist. We can provide advice for managing eye strain and examine your eyes to identify other possible causes of your symptoms. 

Image showing the 20-20-20 rule, which is to take a 20 second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away.

How to Prevent Digital Eye Strain

You have the power to alleviate digital eye strain and manage it with several routine habits and strategies, including the following:

  • Take regular screen breaks: Follow the 20-20-20 rule for screen use. For every 20 minutes of screen time, look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Every hour, give your eyes a 5-minute rest. Close them, look out a window, or take a walk. Whatever you choose to do, be sure to stay away from screens during your break.
  • Remember to blink: Screen use can disrupt your natural blink rhythm, therefore it is important to take a moment to remind yourself to blink when you’re spending a long time using your eyes. This is a very hard thing to remember and train, however it is very helpful and very important to try to form good blinking habits.
  • Optimize your workspace: Adjust your screen’s brightness and contrast to levels that feel comfortable. Consider the lighting in your office or workspace as well. Poorly lit workstations can increase your risk of experiencing eye strain. Find a balance that works for you—not too bright, but not too dim.
  • Maintain your posture: Sit straight with your feet flat on the floor. Position your screen about an arm’s length away and at least 20 degrees below eye level. This can also help you avoid neck or shoulder pain while working.
  • Check your vision regularly: Don’t skip routine eye exams. They’re not just about updating your prescription—they also serve as a proactive checkup on the health and well-being of your eyes.

Stop Straining & Start Seeing

Eye strain can be a formidable opponent, but with vigilance and discipline, it doesn’t have to dominate your day. Your eyes have a job to do, and you can support them by using strategies that help prevent digital eye strain. Remember, when your eyes feel tired, take a break. Your symptoms should fade in time. When you experience persistent eye strain, headaches, or other eye issues, you can visit Downtown Vision Care to get help staying productive and seeing clearly. Request an appointment today.

Written by Dr. Sherri Norris

More Articles By Dr. Sherri Norris

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