Eye Strain Headache: Symptoms and Causes

Eye Strain Headache: Symptoms and Causes

Work and school bring enough stress on their own without extra sources of annoyance and discomfort. For example, no one likes pulling weeds in the garden. Once it starts raining, you just add insult to injury. Similarly, the thing you need the least when you’re in the middle of a large project for or studying for an important class is a headache. The world we live in necessitates the use of computers in most professional and educational work. Computers, in case you hadn’t heard, cause digital eye strain (DES). One of the most obnoxious symptoms of DES, is eye strain headaches. Eye pain and headaches often go together, but in this case, they’re inseparably connected. So, if you find yourself with a headache while reading the computer, read on to learn more about how to fix that.


Digital Eye Strain

Before we get to the headaches, we have to talk a little about digital eye strain. DES is a set of symptoms caused by prolonged use of digital screens. The symptoms include dry eyes, fatigue or blurred vision, neck pain and, of course, headaches. Recent studies suggest that anywhere between 50-90% of computer users suffer from DES symptoms. The cause, as the name implies, is digital screens. Three main factors play into DES as caused by screens:

  1. Blue Light: Blue light, as emitted by the sun, comes in the amount to which our bodies have adjusted. Our eyes were never meant to absorb blue light directly, as produced limitlessly by artificial sources. Blue light has shorter waves than other colors in the spectrum. It thus moves quicker and can harm our vulnerable eyes. As such, the overexposure to blue light that comes with the use of screens causes our eyes discomfort. If we lived in a world without screens, the amount of blue light from the sun and other sources would likely not cause us as much grief, although the science is inconclusive on that.
  2. Flickering: LED lights produce an imperceptible flicker. This was much easier to see on older computer monitors. These days we don’t notice the flicker, but our eyes are affected by it. That imperceptible flicker causes our eyes to constantly readjust to the changing light they’re exposed to. That constant need for readjustment causes fatigue and discomfort in the eyes.
  3. Blinking: When we look at screens we tend to not only blink less, but to open our eyes wider (especially playing video games). This combination brings trouble. Less blinking dries out the eyes. Wider eyes cause greater exposure to both the flickering screen and the blue light. The symptoms caused by the other two sources grow worse when less blinking and wider eyes join in.


digital eye strain definition


Eye Strain Headaches

Any glasses wearer will tell you that forgetting your specs can cause headaches. People who need prescription lenses who don’t wear them frequently have symptoms similar to DES, including headaches. Headaches come with eye strain because headaches and light appear closely linked. When your eyes constantly deal with too much damaging light and all that comes with it, your head also compensates. Unfortunately, this means your brain works overtime, and generally can’t pull it off, just as your eyes can’t. So, you end up with eye strain, and often pretty severe headaches.


a woman experiencing eye strain headache


The Solution

There are two types of solutions to prevent digital eye strain: preventative vs. responsive. 

Preventative measures to reduce the symptoms of digital eyestrain and headaches include:

Follow the “ 20-20-20 Rule”

This rule of thumb states that after 20 minutes of near work, you should take at least a 20 second break, looking at something 20 feet away.  It is a simple tool, but has lasting beneficial effects when you have to be on a computer all day.  To get used to doing this, set a timer on your phone.

Manage Dry Eye Syndrome

We know that while on a device we blink about half the amount of times that we are supposed to, often exacerbating underlying dry eye issues.  To offset this, get in the habit of inserting an over-the-counter artificial tear before you begin working or gaming and then again every few hours.  If you still suffer from symptoms of dry eye (burning, tearing, grittiness, etc…) see number 3.

Schedule Annual Eye Exams

Being on a device all day and night is like a marathon for your eyes; you have to make sure that your visual system is ready to perform.! Seeing your eye care provider regularly will ensure that you are in the proper glasses correction. They can identify if any underlying binocular/accommodative (focusing) issues are present as well as any ocular health conditions (like dry eye) that need to be addressed.  It is important to note that even if you see clearly, a visit to your eye care professional can help you understand your eyes and visual system.

Wear GUNNAR Lenses


GUNNAR glasses have a patented lens design that aims to reduce digital eye strain by addressing the three biggest contributing factors: glare/blue light, dry eye and the need to maintain your eyes focus for long periods of time. By simply putting on a pair of GUNNAR lenses, you are a step ahead creating an easier, more comfortable viewing experience for your eyes. 

If you’ve tried all of those things (or simply forgotten them!) and are dealing with eye strain and a headache, the best way to manage your digital eye strain is simple: Remove yourself from all your devices.

Taking a break from your computer, only to pick up your phone is not an actual break for your eyes. A few hours away from any type of digital device will usually help alleviate the symptoms you are experiencing.  Make sure during this break away to get some rest, get outside, drink water and have a healthy meal.

Digital eye strain is an unfortunate side effect of all of the demands of today's need to be on technology. With a little bit of planning ahead, setting up the right environment and adding GUNNAR glasses into the mix, you should be able to heed off eye strain headaches.

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