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How Long Can Digital Eye Strain Last?

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A tired young man rubbing his eyes due to eye strain while trying to work at his computer.

If you’ve ever spent hours staring at screens before noticing sore, heavy, and exhausted sensations in your eyes, you were likely dealing with digital eye strain. This common condition can cause all kinds of symptoms ranging from headaches to vision troubles, and it’s something that you should try to prevent whenever possible. But how long can digital eye strain last—and what can you do about it?

Usually, eye strain can last for several hours and resolves on its own. If you start to notice sore, irritated eyes, try to take a break from screens for a while—this should help reduce the symptoms quickly. If your symptoms last more than 24 hours, visit your optometrist to find out if you’re experiencing something else.

What Is Digital Eye Strain?

Your visual system is a lot more complicated than you might think. To focus on something intensely, your eyes need to coordinate tiny muscles to work together properly. But when you’re staring at something nearby for a long time—like a screen—these muscles quickly start to tire out.

Think of any time you’ve tried to hold a weight or carry a heavy bag of groceries for too long. You’ll quickly start noticing burning sensations, almost as if your arms are heavier than normal. It’s a sign that your muscles are exhausted and in desperate need of a break.

The human eye works similarly. When you intensely stare at something, those muscles are overworked, leading to feelings of heaviness and soreness. This is called digital eye strain because it often happens when you’re using digital devices. While this common condition is temporary, it’s still irritating!

Recognizing the Signs of Digital Eye Strain

So how can you tell if you’re dealing with eye strain? Try to keep an eye out for signs of discomfort whenever you’re spending too long using screens. Whether you’re typing away for work, playing a video game, or watching TV, look out for:

  • Tired, heavy eyes
  • Overall fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Blurry vision
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Increased light sensitivity
  • Difficulty concentrating

If you notice any of these symptoms, you’re likely experiencing digital eye strain. Typically, these will go away on their own—likely within a few hours. 

Taking a break from your screen is the quickest measure to reduce these symptoms. However, if you notice that your symptoms are sticking around, visit your optometrist as soon as you can to rule out other potential problems.

What Causes Digital Eye Strain?

The initial cause of eye strain is those tiny muscles tiring out. They’re overworked and need a break, and they’ll quickly start to feel heavier and sore when they’re starting to exhaust themselves. However, that’s not the only factor at play.

Whenever you’re focusing on your screen, you’re likely blinking less than you should. Usually, you blink around 15-18 times a minute or so, but when you’re trying to pay attention to the tiny details on a screen, this drops by more than 60%. While it’s a natural response, it can often make symptoms of digital eye strain more severe.

This is due to how it leaves your eye unprotected. When you blink, you’re dispersing a thin film of tears across the eye’s surface, helping keep it hydrated and protected from the outside air. But when you blink less, the eye isn’t properly covered; this can quickly lead to further discomfort.

Other Causes of Eye Strain

Your physical environment plays a role as well. Eye strain becomes worse due to the following:

  • Poor lighting
  • Glare
  • Poor screen position
  • Poor posture
  • Incorrect contrast and brightness settings

With eye strain, prevention is key. So how do you do it?

How to Reduce Eye Strain

Knowing what causes eye strain is half of the battle. It lets you know what to plan for when trying to prevent these symptoms from developing in the first place.

Here are some tips to prevent eye strain:

  • Take regular breaks when you’re at your desk
  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus on something 20 feet away. This helps re-orient your eyes and gives them a break from focusing at a set distance.
  • Make sure your workspace is well-lit
  • Try to make a conscious effort to blink more often
  • Set your screen a little lower than eye level, and at around arm’s length
  • Practice good posture
  • Adjust your brightness and contrast settings so they’re more comfortable

If you do all of this and still notice eye strain, visit your optometrist to discuss solutions. They may be able to recommend alternative ways to prevent eye strain in the future.

A smiling young man leans back in his chair with his eyes closed, taking a break from his screen to prevent eye strain.

When to See Your Optometrist About Eye Strain

At Great Hills Eye Care, we know how important it is to have clear and comfortable vision. Our team is here to help you prevent those feelings of discomfort, and we’re ready to help you take charge of your eye health. Book an appointment today, and let’s work together to prevent digital eye strain!

Written by Dr. Drew Provost

Dr. Drew Provost grew up in Atlanta, GA, and earned his bachelor’s degree studying sociology and microbiology at the University of Georgia. He then obtained his Doctor of Optometry degree from Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee. He completed 2 rotations at The Eye Center in Memphis with concentrations in ocular disease, pediatric optometry, and contact lenses. He completed a private practice internship in Marietta, GA, focusing on advanced contact lens fitting and primary care.

More Articles By Dr. Drew Provost
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Meet Our Doctors

Dr. Drew Provost

Clinic Director/Founder

Dr. Drew Provost graduated cum laude from Southern College of Optometry and is a therapeutic optometrist, certified by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry and the Texas Optometry Board.

Dr. Raymond Carneglia

Optometrist

Dr. Carneglia graduated from Nova Southeastern College of Optometry and is certified by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry and the Texas Optometry Board as a therapeutic optometrist.

Dr. Kelsey Tillotson

Optometrist

Dr. Kelsey Tillotson graduated from the University of Houston School of Optometry and is certified by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry and the Texas Optometry Board as a therapeutic optometrist.

Dr. Ashish Patel

Optometrist

Dr. Patel graduated from the University of Houston School of Optometry and is certified by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry and the Texas Optometry Board as a therapeutic optometrist.

Dr. Hiren Patel

Optometrist

Dr. Hiren Patel earned his Bachelor of Science in Human Physiology from the University of Oregon. He then attended the Pacific University, where he obtained his Doctor of Optometry degree.

Dr. Monica Do

Optometrist

Dr. Monica Do graduated from the University of Houston School of Optometry and is certified by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry and the Texas Optometry Board as a therapeutic optometrist.

Dr. Marcia Truong

Optometrist

Dr. Marcia Truong attended San Jose State University where she obtained her bachelor’s in chemistry followed by her Doctor of Optometry degree at Illinois College of Optometry. She is certified by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry and the Texas Optometry Board as a therapeutic optometrist. 

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