2021 Update: Eye Fatigue

Editor: Dr. Russel Lazarus, Published April 19, 2021

As many as 90% of people who use computers daily report eye fatigue symptoms.

Vision is our primary sense, but most people take their eyes for granted. As we rely more on digital devices throughout our lives, our eyes are starting to feel the fatigue.

What is eye fatigue?

The technical term is asthenopia, but many may know it as eye fatigue or  eye strain. When caused by using a digital screen it’s called computer vision syndrome (CVS) or digital eye strain (DES).

Eye fatigue happens when our eyes experience pain due to being overworked beyond their capacity.

Eye fatigue signs occurs when the muscles in the eye either become fatigued, fail to receive enough hydration and rest from harsh computer screen glare over long periods.

Over time, eyes tend to feel tired and ache, causing difficulties in maintaining attention and concentration.

For some people, their eyes are overworked to a point that they begin to lose concentration and experience disabling eye fatigue, due to glare, air pollutants and long exposure to harmful rays.

When this occurs, it is important to recognize the signs of eye fatigue and then also rest your eyes and take a break from screens or any other activity that requires your eyes to focus intensely.

Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor near you to evaluate your eyes for eye fatigue.

What causes eye fatigue?

Many things can trigger the feelings of eye fatigue, including:

1. Eye muscle fatigue

The muscle inside the eye is responsible for adjusting the lenses in the eyes to allow a person to focus on nearby or distant objects. When this muscle is used beyond its capacity, especially for longer periods, it struggles to focus on objects nearby.

When staring at an object for a long time, it prevents the eye muscles from contracting and relaxing, making it more difficult for them to adjust the lenses and provide clear vision.

The muscles around and outside your eye contract and relax to give a person clear, stable, and strain-free vision. These muscles focus on an image to prevent you from seeing double. When these muscles contract rapidly because of looking at an object for a long time, they feel overworked and strained.

Overworking your eyes prevents them from resting, resulting in tired, strained, eyes and, if left unchecked, possibly eye health conditions.

2. Ocular surface disease

Ocular surface disease, is also known as dry eyes, makes the surface of the eye dry out more quickly than usual, and can cause difficulty in focusing on objects. This dryness causes the eyes to feel tired and drained, and results in eye fatigue.

Other causes of eye fatigue include:

  • activities involving intense focus
  • being stressed or fatigued
  • driving long distances
  • exposure to bright light or glare
  • exposure to dry moving air, such as a fan, air conditioning, or heating
  • reading for long periods
  • staring to see in dim or dark surroundings
  • underlying eye conditions, such as dry eye or uncorrected vision

How can you reduce eye fatigue?

There are a few changes that can improve both mental and eye health.

1. 20-20-20 rule

Eye fatigue can be caused by staring at a digital device for too long. While watching TV or using a digital device, every 20 minutes look at something in the distance (at least 20 feet away) for at least 20 seconds.

This rule helps to relax the eye muscles and prevent eye strain.

2. Blink frequently

People blink less frequently when staring at a  screen, which can lead to dry, sore eyes, as well as eye fatigue.

Remember to blink often while sitting in front of a screen, so you can keep your eyes healthy and moist.

3. Keep a distance

If you tend to sit with your face up against a screen, this can not only cause digital eye strain, but may be harmful for your eyes.

Ideally the screen should be at least 18-24 inches away from your eyes.

4. Upright posture

Online learning and working from home are becoming more and more common, leaving many people sitting in front of a digital screen  many hours a day.

Poor posture  can lead to shoulder, back and neck pain — common symptoms of digital eye strain.

To prevent this, your desk and chair should be at a comfortable height so your feet can rest on the floor. If your feet don’t reach the floor, place a stool under the desk.

Be sure to position your computer screen just below eye level to prevent neck and eye strain.

While eye fatigue may be alleviated by making some lifestyle and behavioral changes, your eye doctor may discover that a functional vision problem is the underlying cause of eye fatigue.

Contact an eye doctor near you who can diagnose your eye fatigue and help improve your vision and enhance screen time experience.