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Asthenopia is more commonly known as eyestrain or ocular fatigue. It’s a common condition that occurs when your eyes become tired from intense use. Staring at a computer screen for long periods or straining to see in dim light are common causes.
Most of the time, asthenopia isn’t serious and goes away once you rest your eyes. Sometimes, asthenopia is related to an underlying vision problem, such as astigmatism or farsightedness (hyperopia).
Asthenopia symptoms can vary from person to person depending on the cause and any underlying eye problems. The most common symptoms include:
- pain around the eyes
- headache that may be aggravated by using your eyes
- dry or watery eyes
- blurred vision
- burning, sore, or tired eyes
- sensitivity to light
- difficulty keeping your eyes open
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, some people also experience reflex symptoms from asthenopia. These may include:
Prolonged use of computers and digital devices has become such a common cause of asthenopia that it has been dubbed “computer vision syndrome” or “digital eyestrain.”
Along with staring at screens for extended periods, other causes of asthenopia include:
- reading for long periods
- staring to see in dim or dark surroundings
- driving long distances
- exposure to bright light or glare
- activities involving intense focus
- being stressed or fatigued
- exposure to dry moving air, such as a fan, air conditioning, or heater
- underlying eye conditions, such as dry eye or uncorrected vision
Most of the time, asthenopia can be treated by making a few changes to your environment and lifestyle. Here are some tips to help you treat asthenopia at home.
Adjust your lighting
Having ample light when performing certain tasks, such as reading or sewing, can help reduce strain and eye fatigue. Place your light source behind you when performing any type of close work and position it so the light is directed onto your task.
A lamp shade on a light positioned in front of you is best if you’re working or reading at a desk. The key is to have sufficient lighting without having it shine directly into your eyes.
If you’re watching TV, soft or dim lighting in the room will be easier on your eyes.
Practice smarter screen time
Limiting the amount of time you spend focused on a computer screen or digital device can go a long way in improving symptoms of asthenopia. Along with limiting screen time, try the following when working at your computer or using a digital device:
- Take breaks using the 20-20-20 rule by shifting your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away, for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes.
- Sit at arm’s length — approximately 25 inches — from the computer screen.
- Position your screen so your gaze is slightly downward.
- Use a matte screen filter to reduce glare when looking at a glass screen.
- Adjust your screen settings, including brightness, contrast, and type size so that it’s easier to see.
Check out some ways you can effectively limit your children’s screen time if they’re having some eyestrain as well.
Asthenopia occurs when your eyes spend too much time focused on something without taking a break. Whether you’re reading, using a computer, or driving, taking periodic breaks is important. Look away from screens or pages periodically, and pull over to rest your eyes when on a long drive.
Use artificial tears
Over-the-counter (OTC) artificial tears help keep your eyes lubricated, which can relieve or prevent dry eyes caused by straining. Use them even if your eyes feel fine before sitting down to work at a computer or other close task.
OTC artificial tears can be purchased in stores or online. Look for lubricating eye drops that don’t contain preservatives. These can be used as often as you need and don’t contain chemicals that can further irritate your eyes.
Examples of preservative-free lubricating eye drops are:
- Refresh Optive Lubricant Eye Drops
- Alcon Tears Naturale Free Lubricant Eye Drops
- Systane Ultra Lubricant Eye Drops
Improve your space’s air quality
Making changes to the air quality in your surroundings, such as using a humidifier, can help prevent dry eyes. Avoid having air blowing directly at your face. You can do this by moving your chair away from heating and air conditioning vents or moving fans or space heaters. When driving, position vents away from your face.
Medical treatment for asthenopia is sometimes needed when symptoms are severe or related to an underlying condition. See an ophthalmologist or optometrist if you experience any problems with your vision or if asthenopia continues even after reducing screen time and taking other measures to rest your eyes.
Medical treatment for asthenopia and related symptoms depends on the cause and may include:
- contact lenses
- refractive surgery
- prescription eye drops
The best way to prevent asthenopia is to limit activities that cause you to strain your eyes. You can do this by taking regular breaks when engaging in tasks that require intense focus, such as reading, driving, or looking at a computer screen. Limit the amount of time you spend on a computer or digital device, if possible.
Having regular eye exams is also important to diagnose and treat any changes in your vision or other eye problems. A baseline eye examination is recommended at the age of 40, which is when early signs of eye disease or vision changes are more likely to occur. Have an ophthalmic exam before that if you experience any changes in your vision or have an eye disease.
People who are at increased risk for developing an eye disease due to diabetes or high blood pressure should also see an ophthalmologist or optometrist sooner.
Asthenopia, though annoying, isn’t serious and doesn’t cause permanent vision or eye problems. Limiting screen time, taking breaks, and making a few adjustments to your surroundings and daily habits is often all that’s needed to improve your symptoms and prevent them from coming back.