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Eye strain can come with some seriously unpleasant side effects. Renew your view with these fast fixes.
When your alarm squeals before dawn, they go right to work. And they keep at it every hour of the day, until after your head hits the pillow.
What workhorses are pulling these epic shifts? Your eyes. And the unfortunate result is often eye strain.
Though we don’t always think about it, our eyes need breaks from all that staring, scrolling, reading, and just plain seeing they do. And not just while you’re asleep.
When your eyes don’t get enough rest, you know what happens. Your lids get heavy. There’s itching, burning, and the urge to rub your face. That’s eye strain. And it means it’s been too long since you gave the windows to your soul the TLC they need.
Good news: You can learn to stop it before it happens.
Common Causes and Symptoms of Eye Strain
Anything that asks a lot of your eyes can lead to eye strain. Think: long stretches of reading, driving, or bright lights.
These days, the most likely culprit is screen time—eyeballs glued to mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and e-readers.
In fact, the American Optometric Association created a special category for this flavor of visual exhaustion: digital eye strain (DES).
It starts with mild discomfort, but if you don’t give your eyes the rest they need, the strain gets worse.
“Your eyes feel tired, you get a headache, your vision may even get blurry,” says Mollie Veteto, O.D., who is with Nashville Regional Eye Care inside America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses. If you don’t take care of it, the pain can extend to your shoulders and neck, too.
Your eyes might also water, burn, or itch, according to the Mayo Clinic. Watch out for double vision and sensitivity to light—that’s a real SOS from your eyes. You need to press pause on what you’re doing.
Revive those eyes with these seven fast fixes for eye strain.
Eye Strain Fix #1: Reset Your Vision
One lesser-known way to reboot our eyes is to look off into the distance. “Resetting our eyes from close-up to far off gives them a rest and helps reset our focus,” says Dr. Veteto.
The Mayo Clinic recommends the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes spent at a computer or device, turn your eyes toward something 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.
Those mini breaks are great, but your eyes need more time off. A few times a day, get up, take a walk, stretch, and do some deep breathing exercises.
Ideally, these aren’t speed breaks. The eye health experts at the University of Tennessee Medical Center recommend 30-minute breaks to fully restore your eyes. Like every muscle, they need regular rest.
Eye Strain Fix #2: Give Your Phone Some Space
Our phones have an off button—shocking, right? Though it might feel like going without your device is like going without oxygen, you can actually live apart from your phone.
And your eyes desperately want you to go screen-free—at least part of the time.
Power down, go into airplane mode, or even dare to leave your phone in another room. And then look at something else—the sky, your loved ones’ faces, your favorite work of art. Anything else will give your eyes a rest from that screen.
Dr. Veteto suggests checking out apps that can help you remember to temporarily unplug. Try Stretchly, built into Windows and Mac. It pauses your computer work and reminds you to take breaks.
Eye Strain Fix #3: Adjust Your Laptop Settings
If you spend your days staring deeply into a computer screen, adjust your text size and contrast until you find what feels best for your eyes.
The University of Rochester Medical Center also suggests keeping your screen dust-free for eye comfort. Not only does the dust blur what you’re looking at, making it harder to see, the dust itself is a potential irritant if it gets in your eyes.
Eye Strain Fix #4: Buy Some Tears
If you aren’t making enough of your own tears, remember: store-bought is fine.
Go ahead and give your eyes a comforting bath in artificial tears. There are several over-the-counter options. Ask your optometrist about the best option for you.
Eye Strain Fix #5: Force Yourself to Blink
It’s all too easy to fall into a wide-eyed trance as you stare at your 312 unanswered emails from today, but you must remember to blink!
It’s not always automatic. Make it a conscious habit to close your eyes for a quick second. Blinking, which coats your eye with a thin, fresh layer of moisture, combats the dreaded dry eye, an eye strain symptom.
Eye Strain Fix #6: Throw Some Shade
When you are working at your desk or reading on the sofa, it’s not an FBI interrogation. You don’t need bright light shining into your face. So set the mood with just the right amount of wattage.
For paperwork, turn on the light behind you. Read in the softly bright light of lampshade. When you are binge-watching Netflix, hit the dimmer switch.
Eye Strain Fix #7: Upgrade Your Eyewear
If you notice frequent eye strain, head to your doctor. You might need a new prescription if you wear glasses or contacts.
It’s also probably a good time to ask whether any special eyewear could help. Glasses and contact lenses with anti-reflective and magnifying capabilities can cut down eye strain, says Dr. Veteto.