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Can Eye Strain Cause Headaches?

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If you are experiencing headaches after a long day at work or school, it may be due to eye strain. Staring at a computer or smartphone screen for a prolonged period can cause your eyes to become fatigued, which causes eye strain. While digital eye strain, or computer vision syndrome, is the most common form of eye strain, activities like reading and driving long distances can also cause your eyes to strain. 

Eye strain can cause a number of vision and health problems, including headaches. While there are steps that you can take at home to prevent eye strain, if you are experiencing persistent symptoms, including headaches, it’s a good idea to consult with your optometrist to identify the root cause of the problem. 

What Is Eye Strain?

Eye strain is a condition that occurs when your eyes get tired from intense use. Activities like using digital devices, reading, and driving for long periods of time can cause our eyes to become fatigued. 

Not wearing corrective lenses if you need them or wearing the incorrect prescription of lenses can also contribute to eye strain. Staying up-to-date with a yearly eye exam and seeing your optometrist when you experience vision changes can help make sure you have the correct prescription. 

Eye strain can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms, including:

  • Headaches
  • Dry eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Neck or shoulder pain

While eye strain can cause discomfort and even interfere with your ability to complete daily tasks, it usually doesn’t cause permanent damage to your eyes or vision. In most cases, eye strain can be treated with at-home remedies and lifestyle changes. 

Digital Eye Strain

Digital eye strain, or computer vision syndrome, is a common condition among people who spend long hours in front of digital screens, including computers, tablets, and smartphones. While working at a computer, we often exert our eyes for hours at a time which can cause eye strain. 

While it may not always be possible, it’s important to limit screen time, especially among children, to avoid adverse impacts on vision, including digital eye strain. Other factors that can contribute to digital eye strain include poor lighting, glare, and poor posture. 

Is Eye Strain Causing My Headaches?

Headaches and migraines can be caused by a long list of both eye and non-eye-related problems. For individuals experiencing chronic headaches, it can be beneficial to identify the underlying cause to avoid triggers and find an appropriate treatment. 

Consulting with your healthcare team—including your optometrist—can help you identify the root cause of your headaches and find lasting relief. 

To determine if your headaches are caused by eye strain, you can begin by eliminating the triggers that are causing your eyes to strain in the first place. This may include reducing your screen time and giving your eyes regular breaks. If your headaches persist even after directly addressing eye strain, then there’s likely another underlying cause. 

It’s important to note that headaches caused by eye strain may actually be less common than you think. According to the American Migraine Foundation, headaches are often attributed to eye strain, when in fact, it’s a fairly uncommon cause. 

Headaches can also be caused by other eye-related conditions such as dry eyes, eye infections, corneal injuries, and glaucoma. Your optometrist can screen for these conditions during a routine eye exam. 

A man holding a small bottle of eye drops in his right left hand and putting them on his left eye due to eye strain.

How to Treat & Prevent Eye Strain

In most cases, you can treat and prevent eye strain by making changes to your lifestyle and environment. Here are some steps you can take to treat and prevent eye strain:

  • Take a break: Give your eyes regular breaks during prolonged periods of eye-intense activities like staring at a screen, reading, or driving. While working at your computer, introduce the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. 
  • Wear glasses: Wearing the appropriate corrective lenses can make it easier for your eyes to focus and prevent eye strain. Some individuals may benefit from a dedicated pair of computer glasses and anti-glare lenses. Make sure that your prescription is up-to-date, as an inaccurate prescription can make eye strain worse. 
  • Blink more: Research shows that we blink 66% less while using a computer. Our blink rate is also reduced while doing activities like reading. Not blinking enough can cause dry eyes and contribute to eye strain. Try to blink more frequently when doing eye-intense activities.
  • Use eye drops: Introducing a lubricating eye drop into your eye care routine can help prevent or ease dry eye caused by eye strain. 
  • Adjust your workspace: Making adjustments to your workspace, including adjusting your monitor position, minimizing glare, and optimizing the brightness and contrast of your screen can all help to reduce digital eye strain. 

By taking steps to treat and prevent eye strain, you can avoid eye strain symptoms, including headaches. 

When to See an Optometrist

Finding relief from both eye strain and headaches may start at your optometrist’s office. If you are experiencing eye strain symptoms, including headaches, you should consult with your eye care professional. 

During a routine eye exam, your optometrist can conduct a complete examination of your vision and ocular health. This exam can help your optometrist to identify potential eye problems that may be contributing to your headaches, including possible eye strain triggers. Contact our team at Avenue Optometry to book an appointment today!

Dr. Shaina Nensi, OD and owner of Avenue Optometry

Written by Dr. Shaina Nensi, OD, FCOVD

Dr. Shaina Nensi, owner of Avenue Optometry & Vision Therapy, received her Doctor of Optometry degree from the University of Waterloo. Dr. Nensi went on to complete a residency in Pediatrics and Vision Therapy where she received additional training in the areas of pediatrics, neuro-rehabilitation, vision therapy and eyecare for special-needs populations. Upon completion, she received The Canadian Association of Optometrist’s Award of Merit and the COVD Award for Excellence in Vision Therapy. Dr. Nensi is also a board-certified Fellow in developmental vision and vision therapy by the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (FCOVD).

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