We rely on our eyes for everything. As soon as we wake up until we lay down at night, we’re using our eyes; especially in today’s society that is filled with screens, meetings, documents, and more. However, when eye strain hits, it can be annoying and even painful. But, you can easily learn how to prevent eye strain and how to relax your eyes if eye strain happens.
Why do we experience eye strain?
Anything that causes you to depend on your eyes for an extended period of time can cause eye strain. This is especially true for activities like reading, writing, and driving. Office workers, people who perform detailed work, or people who frequently squint in the sun are more likely to experience eye strain. Today, with more work, and even leisure time, being spent looking at screens, eye strain caused by digital devices (known as digital eye strain) is a widespread problem. For those with prescription glasses, an outdated prescription can also contribute to eye strain.
When not in ideal conditions, it is also easier for your eyes to become strained. This is especially true when focusing on something with a lack of contrast (such as a grey image with black text). Working in too dim or too bright lights can also negatively affect your eyes. Certain environmental conditionals also greatly contribute to eye strain. Working with a fan or the A/C constantly blowing at your eyes or outside somewhere with dry or debris-filled air can cause eye strain. Even your emotional state, such as if you are dealing with a great amount of stress or fatigue, can contribute to eye strain.
What are the symptoms of eye strain?
You can tell your eyes are strained, or fatigued, by a variety of symptoms that can vary from person to person. While always annoying, eye strain is not typically serious and goes away once you rest your eyes or take steps to reduce your eye discomfort.
Signs to look out for:
- Sore or tired eyes
- Burning or itching eyes
- Watery or dry eyes
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Difficulty concentrating
Often eye strain can be accompanied by headaches, blurred vision, or even double vision. If symptoms like these develop or become prolonged, it’s always a good idea to see a doctor. Eye strain can be an indicator of an underlying condition that needs treatment.
What can you do to relax your eyes?
The easiest and quickest way to relieve eye strain symptoms is simply closing your eyes and allowing them to relax and unfocus. Like any muscle, your eyes need time to rest. While longer and more frequent breaks are ideal, a break around just 10 seconds should have you feeling an instant release from eye strain.
Take closing your eyes a step further and cup your hands over them as well. Placing your hands over the eyes makes your vision completely dark and makes it easier to completely relax your eyes. You can breathe in and out deliberately for a minute or two, before slowly removing your palms and opening your eyes.
You can actually take that a step further too and heat up your palms before covering your eyes. You can do this by rubbing your palms together quickly until they are warmed and then gently press the heels of your palms onto your closed eyes. Be careful not to press too hard on your eyes. You can alternatively use a washcloth or other eye covering to warm and cover your eyes. Heat helps to relax and soothe strained muscles.
Cool temperatures also work to relax and refresh muscles. Anything cool like a washcloth with cool water can work for this. You can even apply slices of cucumber straight out of the fridge and pretend like you are in a spa.
Eye drops or artificial tears, available at most pharmacies or from your eye doctor, can help to lubricate eyes and provide relief from some eye strain symptoms. This can be true especially if your eyes strain is caused by environmental factors such as dry or blowing air.
For the same reason that closing your eyes helps to relieve eye strain, looking away from what you are doing also provides some relief from symptoms. While this won’t exactly help more severe symptoms, looking away can help very mild or developing symptoms. It allows your eyes some temporary relief from whatever it was that your eyes were focusing so diligently on.
Another way to provide relief is to gently give yourself an eye massage. To do this, make sure your hands are clean first. Then, close your eyes and gently massage in circles around your eyes. Start with your eye socket, just beneath your eyebrows from the top of your nose to the edge of your eyelid. Above your eyebrows, around your under eye, and by your temples are also good places to massage. Gentle massages help to relieve pressure and stimulate blood circulation.
How can you prevent eye strain?
The easiest way to prevent eye strain is to blink! Blinking keeps your eyes moist and allows the muscles in your eyes to relax for a few moments. You may not realize it, but when you are focusing on something, your rate of blinking actually lowers. That lower rate of blinking can contribute to dry, itchy, or tired eyes. Just consciously thinking about blinking will help you blink more often and help to prevent eye strain!
Just like any other muscle in your body, your eyes can also be trained to be stronger! Here are just a few of our favorite exercises for your eyeballs. Keep in mind that any of these eye exercises should be completed slowly and deliberately. Just like any other exercise, eye exercises should not be rushed through or you can cause more strain (or even injury).
Roll Your Eyes
Teenagers, rejoice! Rolling your eyes is one exercise that is sure to keep your peepers strong. Keeping your head straight with a neutral gaze, roll your eyes to the right, then slowly shift your gaze to the left. Keep doing this same movement, but switching to cover all directions. Make sure you don’t forget to go up and down as well. It can also help to imagine tracing geometric objects with your gaze, or following a compass to each pole. Repeat this exercise 5-10 times.
Look Near and Far
For this exercise, being outside or looking through a window works best. Start by holding your thumb up about 6 inches away from your face and focusing on it. Then, focus on an object that is a few feet from your face (you can also use your other thumb, outstretched to be arms length away). Then, keep choosing objects further away along a line. You can choose an object across the room from you, just outside the window, and finally something far across the street. This works best when all objects are in the same line of sight, so that the focus changes are subtle. Repeat this a few times slowly, spending a second or two on each object.
Trace an Eight
Imagine you are staring at a gigantic number eight, lying on its side. Then, trace the number eight with your eyes slowly for around 1 min, going both clockwise and counterclockwise. This exercise will help to improve your eye muscle’s flexibility.
Watch Your Thumb
For this exercise, hold your thumb up and out in a loose fist at arm's length and focus on it. Then, slowly bring your thumb towards your nose, still focusing on it, until you can no longer keep it in focus. Rest a moment. Then, keep focused on your thumb while pulling your thumb away from your face. Repeat this up to 10 times.
You can also prevent eye strain by making sure you are in a suitable environment. Make sure to work or do your task in a brightly lit room, but avoid conditions with glare and harsh reflections. You want the correct level of lighting for your activity, but make sure it isn’t shining directly into your eyes. Indirect light sources (think light with a lampshade) placed above and slightly behind you are best for most reading or writing activities.
When working on a computer, place the monitor 20-26 inches away from your eyes and a little below eye level. Regularly clean the screen to avoid glare and reflections caused by fingerprints or smudges. You can also buy a glare filter for your monitor.
You also always want to make sure circulating air is not directed at your face. Avoid pointing fans or AC vents towards your workstation.
While oddly specific, the 20-20-20 rule can greatly help prevent eye strain! The rule is every 20 minutes, take a break from what you are looking at for around 20 seconds, and look at an object at least 20 feet away. Switching your gaze to an object in the distance helps to reduce tension in your eyes.
Blue Light Lenses
If your eye strain is caused by screens, buying a pair of blue light filtering lenses, like the ones sold by Fuse Lenses, can help reduce the symptoms of digital eye strain! Blue light exposure causes not just eye strain, but also sleep problems, headaches, and more. For more information on the effects of blue light, read our blog post here.
Doing eye exercises for a few minutes a day and being cognizant of your environment in situations with extended focus is the best way to strengthen your eye muscles and prevent eye strain. If you do feel the symptoms of eyestrain, take a moment to rest and relax your eyes by doing one of the following: closing your eyes, cupping your palms over your eyes, a heat or cold compress, using artificial tears, or giving yourself a gentle eye massage. Be sure to take other precautions with your vision like getting regular eye checkups and always wearing sunglasses outdoors!