Eyestrain in technical terms is called asthenopia, or vague symptoms of eye discomfort. The history is very important in these cases. Children experiencing eyestrain may complain of headaches, double vision, watery eyes, light sensitivity, seeing spots, or falling asleep while reading. Some relief can be found by closing one eye, laying the head down while reading, or turning the head to the side, effectively blocking the vision in one eye. This keeps the eyes from having to coordinate their movements. Signs and symptoms such as these should prompt parents to make an appointment for a thorough eye examination.
Vision has two parts: clarity and comfort. Vision may be clear but not comfortable and effortless. During an examination the doctor will not only check the clarity of the vision for 20/20 in each eye, but will also test eye coordination. Covering and uncovering the eyes, measuring depth perception, looking for a head turn or tilt, measuring eye drift, observing a chin lift or depression, or seeing squinting are all means of detecting adaptations to eyestrain. Attention spans can be directly related to the amount of effort it takes for a child to read or perform near activities. If a child is uncomfortable, no amount of coercion can generate increased effort.
Often eyestrain in children or adults is eased quickly and effectively with appropriate glasses. Because the visual demand increases up close, glasses are usually needed only for reading or computer. Sometimes bifocals are prescribed so one does not have to remove the glasses for mixed-distance activities. Wearing glasses does not increase a person’s dependence on glasses or change the ultimate need for them in the future. The ideal situation is that the sufferer reaches for the glasses before the onset of a headache or eyestrain rather than waiting until he is miserable.
Ergonomic changes such as increased lighting, better posture, eye lubrication, and print quality and size can make substantial differences in overall visual load.Be prepared with samples of difficult tasks. For accuracy ask someone else measure the working distance from the computer or the book and bring that information to the eye examination.
Eye exercises, too, can in some cases ease eyestrain, but only as long as they are done properly.The easiest thing to do is 20/20/20 — every twenty minutes take a twenty second break by looking 20 feet away. This can eliminate eyestrain and discomfort in many cases. Also moving the body around, shrugging the shoulders and blinking the eyes several times can break up the lactic acid which accumulates in muscles held stationary too long.
Eyestrain can be difficult to pin down but once addressed can bring great relief and increased stamina. Get a thorough eye examination, address ergonomic challenges, wear lenses specifically geared toward the cause of the eyestrain and many happier work hours are in store for you.
Kerri W. Scarbrough, OD is the owner and doctor at Eagle Eye Vision Care in Woodinville.