Symptoms and Signs of Eye Strain

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 5/10/2022

Doctor's Notes on Eye Strain

Eye strain is a term used to describe discomfort or pain while focusing the eyes on a visual task (for example, computer use at work, video gaming, or other visual tasks). Symptoms of eye strain usually occur when a person has close focused visual attention with few or no eye rest breaks but can occur occasionally with distant focused visual attention. Symptoms and signs may include one or more of the following:

  • A dull ache and/or pain in or around the eyes
  • Dry, scratchy, or sandy feeling in the eyes
  • Difficulty in eye focusing
  • Excessive tear production (tearing)
  • Intermittent double vision
  • A difficulty focusing on words or other items
  • Headache
  • Less often, neck pain, nausea, vertigo, and/or eye twitching

Causes of eye strain may include one or more of the following:

  • Blurry vision due to incorrect refraction of glasses or contact lenses
  • Dry eyes (reduced tear formation)
  • Convergence problems (difficulty in eye aligning the eyes when tired)
  • Heterophoria (difficulty in alignment in certain directions when tired)
  • Eyebrow and/or eye lid drooping when tired
  • Less frequently, sinus congestion, migraines, and tension headaches
  • Underlying eye conditions like elevated eye pressure

Risk factors include dry eyes, refractory errors in visual aids, fatigue of muscles associated with the eyes to close work without eye rest, and/or stress or underlying eye problems. An ophthalmologist is a specialist in diagnosing eye problems. However, many people can have diagnosis and treatment by other health professionals. If eye strain is not in improved, consider refractory corrections with glasses or contact lenses. Eyelid surgery may correct droopy eyelids.

What Are the Treatments for Eye Strain?

Though there are no specific treatments for eye strain, the following actions may reduce or prevent eye strain:

  • Adjust lighting by having soft lighting in room when TV is on to reduce glare.
  • Take breaks from the computer; try the 20-20-20 rule -- every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
  • Limit screen time for children.
  • Use artificial tears to prevent dry eyes (if preservatives are in the drops, do not use more than four times per day).
  • Air quality: Avoid dry air blowing by eyes and stop smoking.
  • Use glasses or contacts specifically made for you and your work environment.

Discuss any alternative methods or supplements with your doctor before use.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.