Digital Fatigue: Eye Strain and Migraines


Just like the muscles in your body, your eyes can get tired. For the job they do, your eyes contain the strongest muscles in your body*. But as strong as they are, they can become strained and fatigued by sitting in front of a computer, under fluorescent lights or in front of a TV for several hours. This is called visual fatigue, and an eye doctor can show you how to lessen it during an annual comprehensive eye exam.

Why do I care about visual fatigue?

Today, more and more people are suffering from visual fatigue without knowing the cause of their symptoms. Modern work and lifestyle changes have forced us to spend extended hours in close-range activities such as smart phones, computer work, e-books, and hand-held gaming. The increased demands of these activities on your eyes can leave you with uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptoms. For some people, visual fatigue can also lead to reduction in productivity and ability to concentrate—and may even negatively impact your vision health.

Common Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Tired Eyes
  • Neck or Back pain
  • Burning/Stinging eyes
  • Difficulty focusing after extended periods of time

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, your eye doctor may be able to help.

What Should I do?

Visual fatigue can be diagnosed by an eye doctor through an annual eye exam and a discussion on your lifestyle and work habits. If you have visual fatigue, your eye doctor has new technology designed to help you combat it.

Digital Fatigue in Kids

As the presence of technology increases, so do the chances for your children’s vision to worsen. Many kids today are experiencing digital and visual fatigue due to their increased exposure to digital screens. Nearsightedness has increased by 66 percent since the 1970s, according to The National Eye Institute, a problem that is undeniably linked to the usage of video games.

Not only are children spending too much time in front of  digital screens, they are sitting too close to the screens as well, leading to visual fatigue. Eye doctors recommend the 20-20-20 rule. Take a break once every 20 minutes and focus on something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This can alleviate eyestrain and work the eye muscles that are not being used while watching a digital screen.

It is equally important to make sure the eye gets time to relax on focusing on something up close for 3 hours should be followed by 3 hours of looking at something at a distance. For example, spending time outdoors in natural light relaxes the eyes and relieves visual fatigue as well.

Migraines and Vision — Ocular Migraines and the Connection Between Headaches and Eyes

Migraines are horrible. For those of you who have never experienced a migraine, you’re one of the lucky few. There’s the pain, of course- throbbing, pounding pain. But then, you get the tag-along symptoms: nausea and sensitivity to light and noise. Migraine sufferers quickly learn on the second or third migraine that visual symptoms like wavy lines, flashing dots, and temporary blindness are usually the first sign of a migraine. Also, not all migraines are the same. Retinal or eye migraines, for instance, can occur with or without the accompanying headache, but they can still be just as painful.

Retinal migraines, or ocular migraines, are caused by the same inflammation as regular migraines.  Inflammatory substances release deep inside the brain and around the blood vessels of the head and brain. While ocular and regular migraines affect vision, ocular migraines only affect one eye. Ocular migraine sufferers typically have a family history of migraine headaches.

What triggers migraine symptoms?

While genetics play a major part, other factors can trigger a migraine. Common triggers include:

  • Glaring or flickering lights
  • Certain foods, such as aged cheeses, caffeinated drinks, red wine, smoked meats, and chocolate
  • Food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial sweeteners
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Perfumes and other strong odors
  • Lack of sleep
  • Emotional stress

Who is at risk for migraines?

While migraines are a common neurological condition that affects approximately 20 percent of the population, women are more likely to experience migraines. In fact, women in their twenties or thirties are three times more likely to be retinal migraine victims than men in the same age group.

What causes headaches behind the eyes?

Another common issue is headaches behind the eyes. While stress, eyestrain, and lack of sleep can lead to this type of headache, a frequent cause is actual eye problems such as astigmatism, presbyopia and far-sightedness. These problems left uncorrected, cause habitual squinting and put stress on the eyes, which puts tension on the eye muscles, resulting in a headache.

How to treat migraines

The visual symptoms of ocular migraines are usually harmless and resolve on their own within a half hour. The associated headache, unfortunately, could last for several hours or even days. Rest is your first course of action. Afterwards, it’s best to talk with your physician about migraine treatment and prevention.

If you experience unusual vision symptoms, you should schedule a comprehensive eye exam with an optometrist or ophthalmologist to rule out vision-threatening conditions such as a detached retina.

Health Tips

Do you work or play a lot on a computer? It can put a real strain on your eyes! What’s more, it can lead to other physical discomforts, like headaches, neck and back pain. To help avoid digital fatigue, consider a pair of computer glasses that help you see digital screens better and more clearly. That way, working on your computer won’t be such a pain in the neck… or back… or eyes!

Computer Eyestrain

Having an annual comprehensive eye exam is the most important thing you can do to prevent or treat computer vision problems.

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), computer users should have an eye exam before they start working on a computer and once a year thereafter.

During your exam, be sure to tell your eye doctor how often you use a computer at work and at home. Measure how far your eyes are from your screen when you sit at your computer, and bring this measurement to your exam so your eye doctor can test your eyes at that specific working distance.

Content courtesy of Think About your Eyes campaign.

Published by knanosky

Our first piece of advice when we bought our Airstream was from friends and fellow campers. They said to make sure you "keep the shiny side up." Something that struck me kind of funny, but so true :)

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