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Eye strain

4-minute read

What is eye strain?

Eye strain is common. It happens when you use your eyes to concentrate on something for a long time. Lots of things can cause eye strain, but there are actions you can take to prevent it too.

What are the symptoms of eye strain?

When people get eye strain, they generally get tired, sore or itchy eyes, or notice that their eyes are watery or dry. Eye strain can also cause:

  • a burning sensation in your eyes
  • blurred eyesight, or double vision
  • difficulty concentrating
  • sensitivity to light
  • headache
  • sore neck, shoulders or back due to muscle tension

What causes eye strain?

You can get eye strain from:

  • using computers, smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles for a long time
  • driving for a long time
  • reading for a long time
  • straining to see things when the light is bad
  • being tired or stressed
  • bright or dazzling lights
  • not wearing your glasses or contact lenses, or wearing unsuitable glasses or contact lenses
  • medical problems with your eyes

Eye strain is uncomfortable, but it usually goes away if you rest your eyes. It is not a disease.

How is eye strain diagnosed?

If you think you might have eye strain, before you go to see a doctor or optometrist, make a note of what you were doing before you began to experience the symptoms.

An optometrist will examine your eyes and might test your vision. They might also ask you questions about what could be causing your eye strain.

How is eye strain treated?

The best treatment for eye strain is rest. This will usually ease the discomfort, at least in the short term.

Your doctor or optometrist might also talk to you about:

  • eye exercises to make your eye muscles stronger
  • glasses or contact lenses, perhaps with coatings and tints

Your doctor or optometrist might recommend other treatments if you have another problem with your eyes.

One common problem is dry eye disease, which happens when your eyes don't make enough tears. Some dry eye disease symptoms are similar to eye strain symptoms.

Can eye strain be prevented?

There are several things you can do to help prevent eye strain.

It's very important to take breaks if you are concentrating on something for a long time. This includes when you read, when you use devices like computers and phones, and when you drive.

Children can get eye strain too, especially if they use their phones a lot, or play video games, or watch TV for a long time. They need to take regular breaks. Using electronic devices less often should help.

If you are reading or doing close work, it might help if you adjust the lighting so that the light is behind you and shining directly on what you are doing.

You could use a humidifier to increase the moisture in the air. This might help stop your eyes drying out. Or you could reduce air flow, by turning down a fan or air conditioner.

Smoking can dry your eyes out too. If you smoke, learn about support to help you quit here.

You can buy lubricating drops, also known as artificial tears, at your pharmacy. These might help your eyes feel better.

If you use a computer a lot, try adjusting the contrast, the brightness and the size of the words on the screen. Adjust your monitor so that the top of the screen is just below eye level. Keep your screen clean to avoid glare and reflection problems caused by dust and dirt.

Resources and support

Visit healthdirect's online Symptom Checker to get help on what to do next.

You can also find a doctor or an optometrist near you using healthdirect's service finder .

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2021

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