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Can Eye Strain Cause Headaches?

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Connecting Eye Strain & Headaches

We ask a lot of our eyes in our visual world, and all that focus can lead to eye strain. Our eyes can be made to work especially hard when focusing on a digital device for a long time. This can result in a condition called digital eye strain, sometimes called computer vision syndrome. 

Could eye strain be causing headaches? Research says yes. Scientists have linked eye strain to headaches since the 1800s. Thankfully there are ways to alleviate the pain, from special types of lenses to simple workspace adjustments.

Read on to discover how eye strain can cause headaches, how those headaches feel, and how we can alleviate them.

What Causes Eye Strain?

Eye strain can be caused by any tasks requiring your eyes to focus for an extended period of time. It’s certainly not a new phenomenon: tasks like needlework, reading (especially if the print is small), and driving all put strain on your vision. Increased use of digital devices and more time spent looking at screens have made this age-old problem even more relevant today.

What are the Symptoms of Eye Strain?

Eye strain can manifest as the following symptoms:

  • Blurry vision
  • Double vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Dry eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Struggling to keep eyes open
  • Pain (soreness, tightness, or aches) in the neck, shoulders, or back
  • Headaches

The symptoms of eye strain are usually eased by taking a break from close-up focus work. However, if persistent symptoms recur, it’s wise to let your optometrist know. 

Any visual problem is worth checking out, especially if you work in an environment that regularly puts strain on your eyes. You don’t have to choose between comfort and productivity on the job; your eye care team will work with you to find the best solution.

How are Headaches Caused by Eye Strain?

Headaches may develop as a side effect of eye strain. As your eyes struggle to keep up with the near work you’re doing, you may find yourself squinting to try to see more easily. This can lead to muscle tension and spasms.

Tension headaches can result from the overworked muscles eye strain causes. If you continue to focus on the same task with no moment to rest your eyes, the headache will likely continue.

A woman in discomfort holding her eye's because of eye strain

The Signs of an Eye Strain Headache

How do you tell if your headache is related to eye strain? There are specific symptoms to look for. An eye strain headache most likely:

  • Only develops after a long period of focusing on one thing
  • Lets up soon after you rest your eyes
  • Feels centered behind or around your eyes
  • Causes the area around the eyes may feel tired & sore
  • Has no digestive symptoms like vomiting or nausea
  • Feels less intense than a tension headache, cluster headache, or migraine

Ways to Alleviate Your Eye Strain & Headaches

If you’re suffering from headaches related to eye strain, there are tips you can try to ease your eyes and find comfort while working again.

Ergonomic Adjustments

If you spend long hours at your desk for work, study, or play, make sure you keep your body aligned in a way that’s comfortable and supportive. Adjustments to make include:

  • Maintaining proper posture while at your desk
  • Keeping your computer an arm’s length away & positioned just below eye level
  • Using a document holder that’s similarly positioned to your screen if you need to look at both regularly
  • Blinking more often to lubricate the eyes
  • Lighting your space appropriately to avoid screen glare & light shining in your eyes

The 20-20-20 Rule

The 20-20-20 rule could be considered the golden rule of computer work: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus on something 20 feet away. This simple tip can help alleviate your eye strain and the accompanying headaches by giving your eyes a chance to rest during long bouts of near work.

Take Breaks

Headaches can feel even worse when paired with muscle tension. Regular breaks may help keep your body more relaxed. A break gives you a chance to rest your eyes, take some time to move your body, and drink some water to stay hydrated.

If you’re able to take short breaks throughout your work period, do so! Stretch, go for a short walk or get some fresh air. Regular short breaks can improve your productivity, memory, and overall wellbeing.

Get Your Eyes Checked

Eye strain can occur or increase if you have an undiagnosed eye health problem or a refractive error that needs fixing. Even using outdated prescription lenses can make eye strain worse. Your family optometrist can help.

Regular eye exams are critical in staying on top of your eye health, including managing eye strain. Eye strain from doing close work will ease when you rest your eyes, but eye strain that is caused by an underlying ocular issue may continue to plague you.

Team Up with your Optometrist to Take On Eye Strain Headaches

Don’t fight the battle against eye strain and headaches alone. Work with your optometrist to sort our eye strain solutions. Call us at La Paz Optometric Center to book an appointment—our experience is at your disposal.

Written by Dr. Aaron Sako

Dr. Sako, who was born in Santa Monica and raised in Cerritos, first joined the La Paz Optometric family in 2001. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences in 1995 from the University of California Irvine, before earning his Doctor of Optometry, graduating with honors in 2000 from Nova Southeastern University in South Florida.

Dr. Sako’s current areas of focus are primary care, surgical consultations, surgical co-management, and specialty contact lenses. He is also glaucoma certified and is licensed in the use of therapeutic and diagnostic pharmaceutical agents. Dr. Sako has extensive clinical experience and training, and spent time at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Florida and the Aker Kasten Cataract and Laser Eye Institute in Boca Raton, Florida, before joining the La Paz Optometric team.

Dr. Sako is an affiliate member of a prominent Orange County laser center, allowing his patients to benefit from his unique understanding of LASIK, which he, himself, has undergone. He has also co-managed thousands of refractive procedures. A proponent of lifelong learning, Dr. Sako is also certified in Corneal Refractive Therapy (CRT), which is a non-surgical option for correcting nearsightedness, which involves patients wearing specialty contact lenses during sleep.

Dr. Sako is a member of the American Optometric Association, the California Optometric Association, the Orange County Optometric Association, the Orange County Optometrist Club, and the Asian American Optometric Society. He is currently a member of the executive board for the Asian American Optometric Society and has been since 2004. He is also a member of the prestigious Advisory Board to Vision Laser Eye Centers in Newport Beach, California.

Dr. Sako believes in the importance of community service and always striving for excellence. This former Eagle Scout is currently an active member of the Mission Viejo Rotary Club and provides charitable annual eye exams and care through this organization to children in Baja, Mexico.

Dr. Sako lives in Ladera Ranch with his wife, Mako, and their three children Skylar, Payton, and Colby. When he is not helping patients, Dr. Sako enjoys exercising, skiing, playing golf, and spending time with friends and family. He also has a keen interest in music, and enjoys playing the Tahitian drums and strumming on his ukulele.

More Articles by Dr. Aaron Sako

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