January Newsletter: Digital Eye Strain Could Be to Blame for Your Headaches

Woman experiences digital eye strain

Digital Eye Strain Could be to Blame for Your Headaches

Wondering why you have frequent headaches? Although headaches occur for many reasons, eyestrain could be the reason for your pain if you use digital devices often. Viewing digital screens for just two consecutive hours increases the risk of digital eye strain, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA).

What Is Eye Strain?

Reading, playing games, texting, or working on your laptop for long periods of time takes a toll on your eyes. When your eyes get tired, you may notice that they hurt or feel dry or itchy. Tearing, redness, and neck and shoulder pain can also occur due to eyestrain.

Digital eye strain, also called computer vision syndrome, has become increasingly common due to our reliance on screens. As many as 50% of computer users suffer from digital eye strain, according to an open access article in BMJ Open Ophthalmology.

How Digital Screens Cause Headaches

Your eyes must work harder when viewing images or words on a digital screen. Over time, they become fatigued. The muscles that control eye movements soon become sore, triggering a headache. At the same time, the muscles in your neck or shoulders tighten, which only makes your headache feel worse.

The AOA notes that digital eyestrain symptoms can be caused by:

  • Decreased Contrast Between Words and the Screen Background
  • Fuzzier Letters (The pixels that make up the letters on your screen aren't as sharp as printed letters.)
  • Holding Your Head at Uncomfortable Angles to View the Screen Clearly
  • Not Enough Light When Viewing the Computer

Other factors that can cause digital eyestrain include imbalances in the muscles that control your eyes, glare, sitting too far or close to the computer, or undiagnosed eye problems. Your blink rate could also play a role in digital eyestrain. When you blink, a film of tears coats your eyes, keeping them moist. Blinking tends to decrease when using screens or can be incomplete, causing dry eye. Reminding yourself to blink more often and taking short breaks every 20 minutes will reduce dry eye symptoms. During breaks, look at an object about 20' in the distance for at least 20 seconds.

Vision Problems That Can Cause Digital Eyestrain

Digital eye strain can be caused or worsened by wearing an outdated contact lens or eyeglass prescription. Even if your prescription is updated, you may be more likely to suffer from eye strain if you don't have glasses intended specifically for computer use. Computer glasses provide sharp vision at 20" to 30" inches from your eyes, the normal distance for viewing your laptop or desktop monitor.

Several vision conditions can also increase your risk of digital eyestrain, including:

  • Convergence Insufficiency. Focusing on close objects, like digital screens, requires your eyes to converge (turn inward). If both eyes don't turn inward, to the same degree, seeing the words on a screen becomes much more difficult. Even a small difference between your eyes can stress your focusing abilities. In fact, many people aren't even aware that they have this vision problem. Convergence insufficiency causes eye strain, blurred or double vision, headaches, and trouble keeping your place when reading.
  • Strabismus. Commonly called "crossed eyes," strabismus occurs when the eyes are misaligned. Although noticeable cases are usually treated during childhood, people who have slight misalignments aren't always diagnosed with strabismus. In addition to eye strain, strabismus may cause depth perception problems and blurry or double vision when reading or using screens.
  • Amblyopia. Untreated strabismus can lead to amblyopia, a condition that occurs when the brain ignores information from one eye. The condition makes reading and viewing screens much more challenging and may cause double or blurred vision, poor depth perception, and eye fatigue.

Any vision problem that affects crucial vision skills, like eye teaming, focusing, and tracking, could increase your chances of developing digital eye strain and headaches.

What to Do About Digital Eyestrain

Although frequent breaks, wearing computer glasses, and changing your eyeglass prescription can ease digital eye strain, you may need more help if a vision condition is responsible for your symptoms. Vision therapy, an innovative therapy method that retrains your eyes and improves communication between the brain and the eyes, may offer the ideal option.

Vision therapists use prisms, special lenses, computer games, and activities to correct or improve vision problems that may have gone unnoticed for years. The therapy is effective for both children and adults and can make using digital screens much more comfortable.

Interested in learning how vision therapy can help you? Call our office to schedule a comprehensive vision exam.


American Optometric Association: Computer Vision Syndrome


BMJ Open Ophthalmology: Digital Eye Strain: Prevalence, Measurement and Amelioration


Cleveland Clinic: Eyestrain, 8/6/2019


American Optometric Association: Video-Game Vision Therapy, 2/7/2018



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