Computer vision syndrome, also known as digital eye strain, can cause pain and discomfort. Small adjustments, like taking a break from screen time and improving the lighting at your work station, can typically help your eyes feel better pretty quickly. For some people, digital eye strain can cause recurring discomfort.
We don’t have a lot of good studies that show how long eye strain can last. According to the American Optometric Association, the extent of your discomfort may depend on other factors, such as how much time you spend looking at a screen, whether you are nearsighted, and whether you have astigmatism. If you have a vision condition that’s not currently being treated, that can also worsen your symptoms.
In general, eye strain doesn’t last for long. Anecdotally, it seems that digital eye strain will typically go away within an hour of your last interaction with your screen.
If your eye strain comes with other symptoms, such as headache, dry eyes, neck or shoulder strain, it might take a little longer for your symptoms to resolve.
Under normal circumstances, eye strain doesn’t take days to go away. If you have constant eye strain, that’s a sign that an underlying condition may be at play.
Once you look away from your screen, the pain and discomfort your eyes feel from eye strain may go away nearly immediately. If it doesn’t, try focusing on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds, about every 20 minutes, to see if that helps.
If you’re reading this on a screen and you have eye strain, a good idea would be to look away when you’re done with this article! Taking a break from any time of screen interaction is important to give your eyes a break.
In short: No. Eye strain doesn’t typically cause long-term damage to your vision.
We should note that we don’t yet know what long-term exposure to blue light and extended screen time will do to your eyes. Children, especially, are growing up with more screen time exposure than at any time in human history.
We may learn more in the future about how our eyes are impacted from prolonged screen exposure. But at this time, there’s no reason to believe that eye strain will damage your vision.
There are other conditions that can be aggravated by too much time spent looking at a screen. Frequent eye strain that lasts for hours or days can be an indication that one of these conditions is present.
Dry eye syndrome
Dry eye syndrome can cause eye strain. When you have this condition, your eyes aren’t properly lubricated whether you’re looking at a screen or looking at something else. Dry eye syndrome can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription-strength eye drops.
Myopia (nearsightedness) can cause your eyes to feel strained and tired all the time if left untreated. Eye strain that feels constant, or eye strain that doesn’t seem to be directly connected to looking at a screen, can be a sign of myopia. Contact lenses or prescription-strength glasses are the go-to treatment if you’re nearsighted.
Farsightedness (hyperopia) can also cause eye strain. If you have it, you can see objects that are far away and have a harder time seeing things close by, such as books, phones, and computer screens.
As people go through the aging process, they may develop presbyopia, a vision condition where your eyes lose the ability to focus on nearby objects. This change is due to the eyes’ lenses being less flexible with age. In addition to having a harder time seeing close up, you may experience eye strain.
Astigmatism is caused by a misshapen cornea. The lens of the eye has an irregular curve, which changes the way light passes to your retina, causing blurry or distorted vision. Blurry or distorted vision can occur at any distance, and you may have a harder time seeing at night. This condition can also cause eye strain.
Pain and irritation when you try to focus aren’t the only symptoms of eye strain. Other symptoms may include:
If you’re experiencing significant discomfort, or if you suspect that there’s an underlying condition that’s making symptoms worse, you should make an appointment with an eye doctor.
Eye strain that occurs more than 2 or 3 times per week or that is impacting your daily work and life activities is a reason to get professional help. Your doctor may have some strategies or treatments that can help manage your symptoms.
Digital eye strain can cause temporary pain, burning, and some other symptoms. The good news is that true eye strain doesn’t tend to last too long. Taking a break from looking at screens will typically help resolve your discomfort within an hour or so.
If you have persistent eye strain, it might not be related to screen time after all. Speak with an eye doctor if frequent eye strain is affecting your ability to perform your daily activities.