How to Recognize and Treat an Eye Strain Headache

There are many types of headaches, including eye strain headaches. These headaches often occur after spending an extended period reading or staring at a computer screen. They may be accompanied by blurry vision, dry eyes, pain in your neck and shoulders, or a dull ache behind your eyes.

With the rise of “Zoom culture” in the workplace and school environment, eye strain headaches have become increasingly common.

This article will discuss the symptoms, causes, and treatment of eye strain headaches. 

A person experiencing a headache

SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Verywell

What an Eye Strain Headache Feels Like

Digital eye strain is the direct result of spending too much time staring at a screen. It is associated with:

  • A dull ache behind your eyes
  • Pain in your neck or shoulders
  • Blurry vision
  • Eye fatigue
  • Excessive blinking and squinting
  • Watery, itchy, or dry eyes

Eye Strain Headache Causes

Most headaches are not due to eye strain, but if your two eyes are not aligned, or you are focusing on images improperly—as is the case in those who are nearsighted, farsighted, or have astigmatism—the stress on your eye may lead to an eye strain headache. 

The typical eye strain headache develops after spending an extended amount of time—usually hours—looking at a computer screen, reading, or even sewing.

Any tasks requiring you to use your eyes for a long time can lead to eye strain headaches, but the rise of Zoom meetings and schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic has made eye strain headaches more prevalent than ever. 

Prevention

Frequent eye strain headaches may cause pain and disrupt your quality of life, but they can also limit your productivity—reducing work accuracy—extending the amount of time required to complete tasks, and necessitating more frequent breaks.

There are certain actions you can take to reduce or eliminate the headaches you’re experiencing as a result of digital eye strain:

  • Move yourself or your computer monitor back so that it is at least 20 to 25 inches away from your eyes
  • Wear glasses that protect your eyes from blue light when using the computer
  • Avoid doing work in the dark by keeping the room well lit 
  • Keep the lighting in the room as bright as your monitor
  • Increase the font on the screen so that you aren’t squinting
  • Vary your activities and take breaks as frequently as you can, preferably every two hours for 20 to 30 minutes
  • Break up your tasks into one to two-hour segments instead of more than two hour sessions 
  • Sit up straight and make sure your chair has good back support. Good posture limits tension in the neck, which may contribute to headaches.
  • Standing desks can relieve tension in the body, help you burn more calories, and alleviate some of the negative health effects that arise from sitting down for long periods of time.

Treatment

Eye strain headaches are usually relieved by taking a break from the task that is triggering your headache.

One way to ensure that you are not spending too much time on any one task—like reading on the computer—is to frequently change your routine. Varying your activities is an underrated but very effective way to reduce eye fatigue and digital eye strain.

Some other techniques that might be helpful include:

  • Take a pain reliever like a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory
  • Close your eyes and breathe
  • Move away from the computer screen
  • Use glasses with a blue light filter and correct prescription
  • Use a screen glare filter
  • Fix your posture (make sure you are not slumping, slouching, or sliding down in your chair)

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Most cases of digital eye strain headache go away with a break from the computer, but if your symptoms linger well after your break, you may want to get checked by an optometrist, ophthalmologist, or other healthcare providers. 

Summary

Most headaches are not due to eye strain, but the increased use of digital mediums for work has increased the prevalence of eye strain headaches. 

A Word From Verywell

People are using computers and other digital devices more than ever, but overuse may negatively impact your health. Even as the digital demands in work and life increase, it is important to balance these activities with non-digital ones. Using digital devices usually means that you are sitting for an extended time. 

Your eye strain headache may be a sign that you need to get up and move. A sedentary lifestyle has been associated with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even heart disease.

The importance of taking a daily walk or stretching has never been greater. Taking a break doesn’t just help relieve your eye strain headache, but it will also be good for your mood, blood pressure, and overall heart health.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long do eye strain headaches last?

    Eye strain headaches are a transient phenomenon that usually go away within a few minutes or hours after stepping away from the trigger (anxiety-inducing situation, computer screen, book, etc.). Of note, eye strain does not cause permanent damage to the eye.

  • What can you use to prevent eye strain headaches?

    Limiting screen time, taking frequent breaks, and using good posture (whether sitting or standing) are great ways to prevent eye strain headaches.

  • How can you tell if your headache is being caused by eye strain?

    If you are experiencing blurry vision, dry eyes, pain in your neck and shoulders, or a dull ache behind your eyes after spending a long period of reading or computer screen time chances are you are having an eye strain headache.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Sheppard AL, Wolffsohn JS. Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and amelioration. BMJ Open Ophthalmology 2018;3:e000146. doi:10.1136/bmjophth-2018-000146

  3. American Migraine Foundation. Do I need to have my eyes checked if my head hurts?

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By Shamard Charles, MD, MPH
Shamard Charles, MD, MPH is a public health physician and journalist. He has held positions with major news networks like NBC reporting on health policy, public health initiatives, diversity in medicine, and new developments in health care research and medical treatments.