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Eye Strain Explained

Eye Strain, we have all experienced it. Annoying and sometimes distracting.

But eye strain is not a condition or disease, it is a name for a family of symptoms of potentially many things. But the symptoms can range from minor to debilitating. It may be alone or you may have several of them at the same time.

Eye strain does not cause permanent damage to the eyes. But if you are experiencing eye strain there are simple changes that may be made that can make your eyes much more comfortable and your visual task easier.

The three most common activities where eye strain is experienced is reading, driving, and using a digital device.

Let's look at the symptoms and solutions of eye strain.


With eye strain, you may have only one of these symptoms or you may be experiencing many of them at the same time. It may also vary from time to time.

  • Sore or burning eyes
  • Tired eyes or feeling like you cannot keep your eyes open
  • Blurry vision
  • Double vision
  • Watery eyes or dry eyes
  • Headache
  • Sore neck, back, or shoulders
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Increased sensitivity to light

Causes of Eye Strain

There are many causes of eye strain, the most common are:

  • Straining to see in dim light
  • Using light that is too bright
  • Using a light that produces flicker
  • Glare from incorrect lighting or position of the light
  • Not taking a break from reading, driving, or other activity that requires focus for long periods
  • Having an underlying dry eye problem
  • Exposure to moving air that may be too dry or warm or from an air-conditioner
  • Incorrect eyeglass or contact lens prescription
  • Frequent use or long-term use of digital devices
  • Reading text with poor or inadequate contrast
  • Eye alignment problem (convergence insufficiency, convergence excess, etc.)


When reading, if you are experiencing eye strain, first, make sure your eyeglass prescription or contact lens prescription is correct.Preferably you would want to make sure you had an eye exam within the past year that included an examination for eye alignment problems. Consider that your prescription may be very different for activities when you are looking at the distance versus near vision tasks. Make sure you discuss this with your eye doctor and fully describe your symptoms. You may need a special pair of glasses for reading or computer work. 

Dr. Edward Huggett discusses the symptoms, causes, and solutions of eye strain.

As opposite as it may seem watery eyes are a symptom of dry eyes. How is that? Sometimes the eyes will overcompensate for an underlying dry eye problem by periodically making too many tears. If your eyes are watery or dry your eye doctor can test to see if you have a dry eye problem. Ask for the test. It is very easy and quick. If they are dry, keep a bottle of artificial tears by so when you are going to be performing the activity that you typically have eye strain symptoms on, place a drop into each eye just before the activity and periodically as needed thereafter. 

Adjust your computer screen so that it is just below your line of vision so that you are looking through the proper area of the lens particularly with progressive lenses.

Lighting should be not shining directly into your eyes or reflected into your eyes if looking at a digital device or computer screen. Don't face a window as this can contribute to eye strain.

Follow the 20-20-20 rule which is to look at least 20 feet away every 20 minutes for at least 20 seconds. Set an alarm if you need to your eyes will be thankful!

If using a digital device such as a smartphone make sure it is far enough away from your eyes. The best distance is the Harmon Distance which is the distance from your knuckles to the elbow. For computers, the best distance is 20 to 30 inches depending upon the size and number of monitors you need to see.

The computer and keyboard should be softly illuminated with a diffused light that is flicker-free, and low blue light output. Flicker will contribute to eye strain as will a light that is not well diffused. And we know that blue light contributes to dry irritated eyes.

If you still have eye strain after trying some of the self-care steps, see your eye doctor.

92% of our users notice less eye strain while using Dr. Lite lamps. Give it a try yourself with our 100-day free trial! 

Dr Huggett

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