Vision-intensive tasks like reading or computer work can cause the muscles in the eye severe stress, ultimately resulting in a condition known as asthenopia, or eye strain. Straining your eye muscles can produce a variety of symptoms, which means eye strain can be a debilitating repetitive stress injury. Furthermore, you may not even recognize some of these symptoms as “eye” problems as the symptoms are typically nonspecific. However, once you understand that these issues can point to symptoms of eye strain you are well on your way to treating eye strain or preventing eye strain entirely.
Symptoms of Eye Strain
Due to overwork and repetitive stress, the muscles in your eyes fatigue. The primary symptom associated with early stages of eye strain typically involve the head, neck, or backaches or dizziness and lightheadedness, and although these early symptoms may point to general work-related soreness, it's best to give your body a break if you begin to feel pain near or around the eyes.
Prolonged, intensive use of the eyes cause their ciliary muscles to tighten, often resulting in spasms or twitches around the eyes. This is the earliest sign directly indicative of eye strain and can intensify to include heaviness of eyelids, blurred or double vision, tired or sore eyes, or even overly watery, itchy or dry eyes.
If left untreated and exposed to continued stress, the pain can intensify resulting in a burning sensation, even with eyes closed.
Other nonspecific symptoms include car sickness, nausea, reading problems, lack of concentration, and general fatigue.
Treating Eye Strain Symptoms
Although many of the above symptoms do not directly point to eye strain, if you begin experiencing more than one of these symptoms while undergoing eye-intensive tasks, it is best to take a break and assess your overall well-being. Your first response should be to cease the activity causing tension, close your eyes and relax for five to ten minutes.
If you are reading, especially on a computer screen, and begin to experience these symptoms, it is best to allow your eyes and the ciliary muscles to relax by focusing away from the reading material. Focus instead on an object considerably further away. This relaxes the strained muscles of your eye and interrupts the repetitive stress of continued reading. Doing this over the course of working on eye-intensive tasks may reduce your chance of straining your eyes.
If your symptoms do not lessen as a result, you may have over-stressed your eyes. In this case, the best solution is to turn out all the lights in the room and allow your eyes to fully relax in the dark. If you are experiencing a burning sensation even with your eyes closed, covering them with a cold compress (nothing too cold, like ice) should alleviate some of the tenderness.
Over time of non-use, your eyes will recover on their own. If symptoms continue to occur, even after a long rest, consult your physician as this may be indicative of a larger optical issue.
Effects of Eye Strain
Chronic eye strain may also be a significant factor in learning and attention problems. Without the ability to see or read without significant discomfort, you may find yourself unable to retain information due to the distraction of pain. Chronic pain, if left untreated, may cause your vision to suffer, eventually resulting in blindness.
Fortunately, diagnosing eye strain is rather easy since these symptoms typically only appear during a visually intensive task. When you're undergoing such stressful work, be sure to be aware of the fatigue of your eyes. Take breaks often and desist if eye pain continues for more than 30 minutes.