What does eye strain feel like?

What are the symptoms of eye strain? This would be another, perhaps a bit more sophisticated, way of asking the same question. But the title should also set the tone of this article, so a plain English version: What does eye strain feel like? is preferred. Why in plain English – so you can identify as quickly as possible whether digital screens are causing your eye strain.

When you first start suffering from computer eye strain all you know is what it makes you feel: – dry eyes, itchy eyes, tired eyes, headaches, blurry vision, red eyes, insomnia… Subsequently, for some time you think: My problem is dry eyes, or itchy eyes, or tired eyes, or a headache, or … The problem is that until you identify the root cause, you don’t stand a chance of finding the right remedy.

When you look for a cure to computer eye strain based on a symptom and not its underlying cause, it might take a long time (often months or years) before you know it is your digital screen(s) causing it. In the meanwhile, whatever your computer eye strain feels like continues getting worse. Maybe you also start feeling other symptoms, so you get more confused. In the worst case scenario, your computer eye strain may develop into a chronic condition, which then becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. 

The good news is that nowadays we tend to ask search engines first. And they are getting smarter. Google is able to “diagnose” a possible root cause based on a symptom and suggest hits that deal with computer eye strain.

For example you might search eye rest – no mention of computer screens, eye strain, or computer vision syndrome, and the first hit might be 10 tips for computer eye strain relief. Similarly, if you ask Google: What does eye strain feel like, most of the “answers” will suggest computer screens based activities as a likely cause. Again, the search phrase said nothing about computers. Therefore, it seems that Google’s “wisdom” merits closer examination to make sure all possible symptoms are considered.

Disclaimer: I am NOT a vision scientist nor a physician but a more computer glare and light-sensitive person. Hence, my interest in What does eye strain feel like, and this site, GLARminŸ, which focuses on PC eye comfort, providing detailed solutions to computer eye strain for the more sensitive.


What are the symptoms of eye strain?

Scientists talk about the following symptoms of computer eye strain: eyestrain, tired eyes, sore eyes, dry eyes, watery eyes, irritated eyes, contact lens problems, blurred vision, slowness of focus change, double vision, presbyopia, neck pain, back pain, and shoulder pain [Computer Vision Syndrome: A review (2015)]. Dry eyes have also been associated with insomnia through dry eyes [Sleep and mood disorders in dry eye disease and allied irritating ocular diseases (2016)] – hence sleeping trouble may be another indication that you are suffering from computer eye strain.

The Vision Council reports that 60% of Americans experience symptoms of digital eye strain as eye strain, dry eyes, headache, blurred vision, or neck and shoulder pain.

The top hits on Google, when asked What does eye strain feel like, suggest these symptoms:
– headaches; blurring of the vision; feeling of dryness (MedicineNet.com)
– sore or irritated eyes; trouble focusing; dry or watery eyes; blurred or double vision; increased sensitivity to light; pain in the neck, shoulders, or back (WebMD)
– sore, tired, burning or itching eyes; watery or dry eyes; blurred or double vision; headache; sore neck, shoulders or back; increased sensitivity to light; difficulty concentrating; feeling that you cannot keep your eyes open (Mayo Clinic)
– symptoms range from physical fatigue, decreased productivity and increased numbers of work errors, to minor annoyances like eye twitching and red eyes (AllAboutVision)
– headaches, tired eyes, neck or back pain, burning/stinging eyes, difficulty focusing (Think About Your Eyes)


What does eye strain feel like, by regular people

You may have gone through all of the above an still haven’t found anything that corresponds to what you are feeling and yet you think it might have to do with digital screens.

A summary of Google AdWords search phrases may be more revealing, because they tend to be used by regular people, like yourself, investigating how to stop eye strain.

Unless cited otherwise, the search phrases below resulted from a refinement of keywords suggested by Google AdWords Keyword Planner:
– carried out in October 2017
– keyword seed: eyes hurt from computer
total number of associated keywords suggested was 673
– average number of monthly searches for all keywords – over 1-10 million – in case you thought you were alone in this!

what does eye strain feel like

Symptoms that are similar were grouped together. Due to a large number of associated search phrases and certain level of similarity, only phrases with minimum 100 monthly searches were included.

Note also, that different symptoms may appear individually or together with other computer eye strain symptoms.

It seemed reasonable to keep all search phrases, as they are, due to the purpose of this article, hence some repetitiveness:


Dry eyes, burning, and itchy eyes

Dry eyes, dry tired eyes, eyes feel dry and tired, stress dry eyes, dry eyes from computer, itchy eyes computer screen, burning eyes, burning eyes and headache, eyes burn when tired.


Eye strain headaches

Sore eyes and headache, sore eyes headache, eye strain headache, tired eyes headache, headaches from looking at computer screen, headache caused by eye strain, dry eyes and headache, dry eyes headache, tired eyes and headache, burning eyes headache, headache when using computer, computer headache.


Red eyes

Red eyes from computer, red eye strain


Blurry vision and trouble focusing

Hard to focus eyes, blurry vision when reading on phone, eyes not focusing, difficulty focusing eyes, eyes having trouble focusing, trouble focusing eyes


Eyes in pain

Eyes hurt, eyes hurt from computer screen, eyes hurt when I look up, eye ache, eyes pain from computer, why do my eyes hurt when I look around, constant eye strain, eye muscle strain, my eyes are strained, eyes feel strained, eyes feel sore, why do my eyes ache, eye muscle strain, sore tired eye, eye strain pain


Tired eyes or eye fatigue

Tired eyes, eyes feel tired, eye fatigue, tired and sore eyes, eye tiredness, ocular fatigue, screen fatigue, screen eye strain, severe eye strain, computer fatigue, monitor eye strain


Screen brightness and glare

Bright computing, what causes glare in eyes, computer glare



eye stress, fluorescent lights eye strain, computer vision problems, computer eyes, dizziness, eye strain symptoms dizzy, can eye strain cause neck pain, neck pain


How does eye strain feel to me

For whatever it’s worth, I might add from my personal experience:

– tension in the area around and/or between the eyes
– inexplicable general fatigue
– the screen is too bright even at the lowest brightness setting
– light sources in the field of vision feel uncomfortable

If you think some symptoms are still missing, do let everyone know in the comments or send a note.


What next

OK, so now you know what computer eye strain feels like. You think you might be suffering from it, because every day you spend several hours looking at digital screens.

See what others recommend – the links above might be a good start. Some suggestions you’ll find are easy to understand and implement. But others are trickier.

For example (the suggestions below are exact quotes from above-referenced websites):
– change lighting to get rid of glare and harsh reflections; try to adjust your lighting to maximize illumination while minimizing glare; if possible, turn off the overhead fluorescent lights in your office [how?; what if not possible?];
– use a glare filter for your screen; consider computer eyewear; [which ones?]
– take regular breaks from computer work; [what if you keep forgetting?]
– apply a washcloth soaked in warm water to tired, dry eyes (keep your eyes closed); [what if you can’t do that at your work?]
– change brightness and contrast levels on your monitor; [how can you do it?, what about windows 10?]

In square brackets above you have suggestions for some articles that explain these suggestions in detail. Consider also visiting this, GLARminŸ guide, and read more about other possible solutions to computer eye strain.


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