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How Long Does Eye Strain Last?

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A woman with long, straight, brown hair wearing a gray button-up sweater is sitting in an office with a laptop off to the side, rubbing her eyes with both hands.

As device usage becomes more popular, so can digital eye strain. This common eye condition often feels like your eyes are heavy, tired, and irritated, and it’s caused by overworking your eyes. 

Eye strain typically lasts a few hours, but in some situations, it can last up to a few days. If your symptoms last any longer, you should visit your optometrist for an eye exam. Your symptoms might be an indication of a different eye condition that needs to be addressed.

What Exactly Is Eye Strain?

Eye strain develops when your eyes get tired from intense use. When you stare at a computer screen for a long time or drive long distances, eye strain can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms—even your neck and shoulders can be affected. 

The human eye is designed to focus on different distances in different lighting, and it adapts when it needs to in order to give you clear vision. But nowadays, many people find themselves dedicating long hours to focusing on things at a fixed distance for extended periods of time, like a computer screen or small printed text.

When you’re focused on a computer, there are other factors that can cause digital eye strain too. For example, some studies have shown that screen use can disrupt your natural blink rhythm, which can increase your vulnerability to dry eyes and eye strain. 

What Does Eye Strain Feel Like?

Have you ever experienced headaches after a long day of work? Do you find your eyes feeling sore or unusually tired? If so, you may have dealt with eye strain. 

Some of the common symptoms of eye strain include:

  • Headaches
  • Sore, tired, or burning eyes
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Watery or dry eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Sore shoulders or a sore neck
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Redness

Fortunately, these symptoms tend to be temporary—but that doesn’t make them any less annoying. You also shouldn’t ignore them—especially if you experience them often. 

What Causes Eye Strain?

At its core, eye strain can be caused by your eyes overworking themselves. Just like any other muscle in the body, your eyes need rest. When they’re forced to focus for extended periods without breaks, they can start to feel strained, tired, and burnt out.

There are several common situations that can lead to eye strain, including:

  • Prolonged screen use
  • Poor lighting or glare 
  • Driving for extended periods without taking breaks
  • Dim lighting around you
  • Exposure to dry or dusty air for too long
  • Using the wrong prescription for glasses or contacts, which can cause your eyes to work harder to compensate

Eye strain can even develop if you’re stressed or overtired, as your eyes may have to work harder to perform their basic functions. This can make it difficult to know exactly what’s causing your eye strain without an eye exam from a trained optometrist.

Woman shaking hands with female optometrist.

How Long Does Eye Strain Usually Last?

Fortunately, eye strain is usually a temporary condition. It tends to go away on its own after a few hours or so. In some situations, extreme cases of this condition can last up to a couple of days.

It’s important to remember, though—eye strain develops because your eyes are overworked and need time to rest. So, while it might go away on its own after a bit, your experience can depend on a few factors, including:

  • How overworked your eyes are. The longer you strain your eyes and ignore symptoms of eye strain, the longer it can take for them to recover.
  • Whether or not you take breaks to give your eyes the rest they need.
  • Your work environment. Poor lighting conditions or screen settings can make symptoms worse, leading to your eyes needing more recovery time.
  • Staring at screens for too long without looking away.

It can help to think of it this way: these symptoms develop as a way for your eyes to tell you they need a break. So, if your eyes are beginning to feel sore, irritated, and uncomfortable, it’s time to take a break.

It’s also important to remember that eye strain shares some of its symptoms with other conditions. So, if you experience the symptoms of eye strain often, you should speak with an eye doctor. We can help you determine what’s affecting your eyes and help you learn how to get relief. 

Tips for Reducing Eye Strain

Eye strain is avoidable! The steps you can take to prevent eye strain include the following:

  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule while using screens: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Adjust your workstation. Set your screen so it’s at eye level, and make sure you’ve got enough lighting to see comfortably.
  • Blink regularly to keep your eyes moist and reduce dryness and irritation.
  • Use artificial tears or eye drops (as recommended by your eye doctor).
  • Take regular breaks to rest your eyes.
  • Stay at a comfortable distance from your screen.
  • Practice good posture to reduce eye strain’s effects on your shoulders and neck.
  • Keep your eyes hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Taking steps to support your eyes can give you a better chance of avoiding eye strain. And don’t forget to listen to your eyes! If they start to feel sore, take a break from whatever you’re doing and give them a chance to rest and recuperate.

Remember: you can always visit your optometrist to get their professional recommendation on reducing your digital eye strain. We can provide personalized advice based on your unique needs and lifestyle. 

When to Visit an Optometrist for Eye Strain

Eye strain can be extremely irritating, and it can be a major distraction when you’re trying to focus. While it’s not typically a life-threatening condition, it can have a lasting impact on your life, and this makes it crucial to visit your optometrist to get a proper diagnosis.

At Aurora Eye Care, we know how frustrating this condition can be. So, book an appointment with our team today, and let’s work together to build a plan to treat your eye strain.

Written by Dr. Kyla Hunter

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