11 Best Ways to Relieve Eye Strain and Reduce Your Irritated, Dry Eyes
Eye strain is something that many of us have dealt with, and it's also something we all wish to avoid. Eye strain, otherwise known as asthenopia in the optometry world, can be very nonspecific and is often different for everyone. However, we do know that eye strain is becoming more and more prevalent as more of us work from home in front of screens all day.
So, why do your eyes feel tired after a long day? There are many causes of eye fatigue, but a huge culprit is the technology we're surrounded with daily. Working on a computer or even on your cell phone throughout the day can make your eyes much more tired. This occurs because, when you look at something small and close to you, the ciliary muscle inside your eye contracts and changes the focusing system of your eye to allow you to view up close. This small muscle is so important because it controls your ability to focus far away, up close, and at all distances in between.
The longer this muscle has to work, the more eye strain you may feel (the ciliary muscle gets tired just like your other muscles do after a weightlifting session!) Also, working on a computer that emits blue light means that the contrast of what you're viewing is decreased, making it tougher to see clearly.
Another major reason you may experience eye strain (and the dry eye that goes with it) is because you’re blinking much less when you read or work on a computer. Normally, you blink roughly 20 times per minute when going about your day. However, reading or doing near work cuts that number in half. This means the tears on your eyes are evaporating more quickly, and you’re likely to end up with eyes that burn or sting.
Aside from computer work, other reasons for eye strain can include reading or analyzing small print for extended periods, needing a new glasses prescription, problems with your eye muscles and binocular vision, and even driving at night. If you’re experiencing eye strain that is new to you, make sure to see your eye doctor first so they can thoroughly evaluate you.
Eye Strain Symptoms
Like I stated previously, eye strain is an annoying condition which often plagues us with vague symptoms. For those who have experienced it, you know this is true!
When someone complains of eye strain, they may complain of:
Pain in or around the eyes
Dry or red eyes
When you're trying to work or get things done, eye strain can be a bear to deal with. It can make you feel like you just want to close your eyes and take a nap. Have you been there?
In this day and age with all of the computer and cellphone technology around us, it's safe to say that most of us have experienced eye strain to some degree.
How Long Does Eye Strain Last?
As long as you're continually forcing the ciliary muscle to contract, you're going to experience eye strain to some degree. Just like your muscles are tired and sore after a good workout, your eye muscles will be the same after a long day at work.
Also, the longer you work in a dark environment, whether you're driving or just working in a dark room in front of a computer screen, you're forcing your eyes to work harder to sustain crisp vision.
The dangers of blue light from the cell phones and computers we stare at all day long are starting to come to the surface, and avoiding this prolonged exposure to blue light will ensure that your eyes are staying healthy and avoiding the fatigue and other ocular problems that can come along with it.
How to Avoid Eye Strain
1. The 20-20-20 Rule
We love to employ the 20-20-20 rule. This is how it works...every 20 minutes, look up from your computer (or cell phone, needlepoint project, etc) and look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Set a timer! This is the best way to ensure that you're giving that ciliary muscle a rest every once in a while.
The 20-20-20 rule is a simple tool designed to use at work or home to reduce eye strain from viewing a computer or other digital display. The 20-20-20 rule reduces eye fatigue because, when the worker takes a break from screen time every 20 minutes, then looks at something far away, this gives the eye muscles a break. This activity also allows you to blink fully, which gets the tears flowing and helps with dry eye symptoms.
Tips for Remembering to Use the 20-20-20 Rule
It is often hard to start a new habit, especially if it is a healthy one. In order to remember to take eye breaks every 20 minutes, it might be helpful to set the alarm on a cell phone. However, this is distracting if you work in a cubicle in close proximity to other people, so an alternative might be to set a timer to vibrate until you get in the habit of naturally taking a short eye strain break every 20 minutes.
2. Blue Light Blocking Glasses
Grab yourself a pair of blue light blocking glasses (or have blue light technology put into your prescription lenses). This technology helps prevent too much blue light from entering your eyes and can help relieve symptoms of eye fatigue while you work throughout the day.
They can also help you sleep better, so that's a welcome bonus! The slightly yellow lenses help to absorb blue light from your computer and smartphone screens and protect your eyes from the damaging effects of blue light. Although studies have shown that blue light is not detrimental to the eyes (the majority comes from the sun, anyway!), many people do notice an increase in fatigue when they’re not wearing their blue blockers.
3. Eyelid Cleanser
It may seem like a strange recommendation, but using an eyelid cleanserduring the day may help relieve some eye strain and dryness. We recommend hypochlorous acid, like Heyedrate Lid and Lash Cleanser, because it is easy to use and very gentle on the eyes and eyelids. Simply spray the solution onto your closed eyelids and let it dry. Hypochlorous acid can be used to decrease microorganisms that live on the skin, and eyelid cleansing can be helpful to decrease irritation while allowing you to feel refreshed throughout the day.
Another recommendation is to keep a bottle of preservative free artificial tears at your workstation. We recommend using them up to four times daily, and we like Oasis Tears Plus PF for this. As stated earlier, you’re blinking half as much when you’re working on a computer or reading. This increases the evaporation of the tear film and can quickly dry your eyes out. It’s important to replenish those tears throughout your workday, and this can improve the symptoms of eye strain.
Think of Canada and Russia’s winter humidity (about 0%) versus South Carolina’s summer humidity (100%). The more humidity, or water in the air, the better your eyes are going to feel. If you live or work in a dry environment, chances are that your eyes are feeling it. The winter months are well known to be much drier as well, so you may want to consider this tip during the winter months no matter where you live. Keeping a humidifier at your desk or at least in your workspace will greatly increase the humidity in the air and help your eyes retain moisture. This can go a long way in relieving dry eyes, which are a major contributor to eye strain.
6. Adjust Your Lighting and Computer
Next, adjust the lighting in your work space. Dark work environments make your eyes work harder, which isn't what you want. Make sure your lighting is great and make sure to increase the level of brightness on your computer as well, if necessary for comfort.
In addition to lighting, pay attention to where your computer sits in relation to your head. If you are looking straight ahead when you are reading on a computer screen, your eyes are completely open and your eyelids are usually at their highest point. If you are reading from an iPad, Kindle, book, magazine, etc., then you’re usually looking down to some extent. Your eyelids are down so there is less open area on the surface of your eye, meaning tears evaporate more slowly. Many people find that this can make a big difference in how much pain they experience, or how quickly they start to feel eye strain.
This one is all about taking a break. The less time you spend in front of a screen using your eyes, the less tired they will be. Consider using your lunch break as a time to nap or meditate, or simply take smaller breaks throughout the day to close your eyes completely. This will give your eyes the chance to rest and relax in preparation for more work.
Drink more water — that’s H2O — not more coffee, energy drinks, or soft drinks. Staying hydrated makes it easier for your body to fend off any toxins and feel refreshed. We recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces of water per day. This means that if you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink roughly 75 ounces of water per day. The easiest way to ensure you do this is to keep a reusable water bottle at your desk. Refill it throughout the day with filtered water, so you’re never without a drink.
9. Green Smoothies
You might find it strange that we list green smoothies here, but it’s a reminder that what you eat matters. Downing a burger and fries for lunch after you’ve had a bagel for breakfast is not the way to keep your eyes hydrated and your body in good health. We highly recommend replacing your breakfast with a green smoothie. This will add hydration and antioxidants into your daily routine, and it will greatly increase your energy. If you’re not sure where to begin, check out this article all about green smoothies.
Yes, I know we already mentioned naps and meditation. However, this one deals with the quality and quantity of sleep you’re getting at night. Without it, your body will be tired and your eyes will be tired even in the morning. It is recommended that most people try to get between 7-8 hours of sleep per night. There are people who function well on less than this, but they are few and far between. Two hours before bed, begin powering down your devices (including your television) and grab a paper book, try some yoga, or meditate. Having a nightly routine will help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer.
Exercise is last on this list, but it’s definitely incredibly important. You can probably sense a theme by now, because the more time you spend away from your computer the better off your eyes will be. Go for a walk to take a break. Get some fresh air and sunshine as well, since these can help lift your mood and help you sleep better.
No matter what the reason for your eye strain, we highly recommend seeing your eye doctor regularly for comprehensive exams. Yearly exams will ensure that you’re wearing the correct prescription for you, and this will ensure that any eye conditions are caught early on. Following the above tips, we know you’ll see a decrease in your eyestrain soon!