What can you do about Eye Strain?

Eye strain – what can you do about screen eyes?

These days, we take it for granted that most of the people on the bus, or even those we pass walking along the street, will have their faces buried in their smartphones. It’s not uncommon to see a couple out for dinner, concentrating more on their selfies or social media feed than on each other.

Long gone are the days when phones were for phoning – today you can text, listen to music, access your emails and stay in touch with friends on social on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And that means more and more time spent staring at a screen. 95% of households own at least one mobile phone - yet just a generation (25 years) ago, more than 5 in 6 households didn’t have a single mobile between them.

Computer use shows a similar picture, with household ownership up from 27% in 1995 to almost 90% today. 4 in 5 people in the UK use a computer every day, often for most of their working day. And it’s increasing across all ages – in the last decade, the proportion of computer users has more than doubled among over 75s and increased from 50 to over 75% among 65-74 year olds.

While this explosion of digital use has brought many benefits – access to a wider selection of information, quicker communication, easier contact with far-flung family – there are downsides too. And one of the biggest victims is your eyes.


Screen eyes – what’s going on?

‘Visual fatigue’ or ‘Digital eye strain’ (DES) is common – in fact, it affects anything from 1 in 2 to 3 in 4 computer users. Common symptoms include dry eye, tired eyes, soreness or aching, eye irritation, watering or burning. Even an hour of digital use without a break can be enough to bring these symptoms on, but the longer you use your computer continuously, the worse symptoms tend to be.

There are two main reasons for eye strain related to computer use.


Blinking troublesome

The first is common-or-garden blinking. Most of us blink without noticing, but if you’ve ever taken part in a staring contest, you’ll know how quickly your eyes become uncomfortable. That’s because the surface of your eye needs constant lubrication to remove tiny specks of dirt and prevent the surface of your eye from feeling dry. Your eyes constantly produce a film of tears to provide this lubrication, and blinking spreads it over the front surface of your eye. This tear film is constantly evaporating, so needs to be replaced. If your eyes are irritated, you’ll naturally blink more – this helps wash away any irritants from the eye surface.

When you’re using a digital device, you tend to blink up to three times less often, leading to dryness, along with eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes and pain in the neck and shoulders. Reading for long periods can have the same effect, whether you’re reading a book or from a tablet.


Squinting to see

If your device isn’t at the right distance away from your eyes, or if your eyesight hasn’t been checked and corrected, you may find yourself straining to focus or squinting to see the screen. Squinting can allow you focus better, as well as reducing glare from a bright screen. But it’s hard work for the muscles around the eyes, meaning an unfortunate side effect is more eye strain.


How can you reduce computer eye strain?

The obvious way to avoid computer eye strain is to avoid any digital technology – but clearly that’s not realistic for most people. The good news is that there are plenty of tips to reduce the risk of eye strain and relieve your symptoms:

  • Using regular lubricant eye drops, can be extremely effective at relieving symptoms. Both the bottle and single day vial versions of Optrex double action drops for dry & tired eyes are preservative free. Using preservative free drops reduces the risk of irritation or intolerance of drops and can reduce evidence of inflammation in the tear film. Preservative free versions are recommended for people who are intolerant of version containing preservative; or need drops more than 4 times a day; or use soft or hybrid contact lenses.
  • See your optician for regular eye checks and if you’re prescribed glasses or contact lenses, wear them!
  • Keep your screen at the right distance from your eyes (about arm’s length).
  • Follow the ’20-20-20 rule’10. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away.
  • Ideally, position your screen about 20 degrees below eye level. This means you’ll be looking slightly down, which means your eyelids won’t be fully open and will be covering (and protecting) more of the surface of your eyes.
  • Try to get into the habit of blinking regularly.
  • Consider a daily omega 3 fatty acid supplement (such as cod liver oil capsules). While studies aren’t conclusive, at least on study suggests they may improve the quality of tears, reducing evaporation. has been shown in studies to reduce evaporation of tears and reduce dry eye symptoms.


Date of Prep, June 2020. RB-M-05049