Nowadays, it’s easy to spend a lot of time in front of screens. Whether you’re at work or home, on a smartphone or computer, screens are a big part of our everyday lives. While they won’t cause any damage to your eyes, screen use can make them feel uncomfortable, causing symptoms like dry eye and headaches. 

Here, we’ll talk about the link between dry eyes, headaches, and screen usage, as well as what you can do to help relieve your symptoms and feel more comfortable when using screens

What is dry eye syndrome?

Dry eye syndrome is a very common eye condition that can affect one or both of your eyes. It’s not normally serious, but it can feel uncomfortable, with symptoms including:

  • Itchy, red or sore eyes
  • Gritty or burning sensation
  • Blurred vision
  • Watery eyes

What causes dry eyes?

Tears play an essential role in your eye health, keeping the surface of your eye moisturised and healthy. Dry eye happens when the eyes either don’t produce enough tears, or when the tears evaporate or drain away too quickly.

This can happen for a number of reasons:

  • Age (dry eye is more common is people over 50, due to natural changes in the eye)
  • Hormonal changes (like the menopause)
  • Wearing contact lenses
  • Hot or windy environments
  • Smoking
  • Certain medications
  • Being in an air-conditioned room

Dry eye is also a very common symptom of computer eye strain, along with headaches, sore or tired eyes and blurry vision.

Learn more about dry eyes

How are dry eyes and headaches linked?

Even though dry eyes and headaches often happen at the same time, it’s not clear yet whether one causes the other or if they’re both just symptoms of the same condition.

Some studies have investigated a potential link between the two1,2,3, suggesting that people with headaches or migraines are more likely to have dry eye, but there is still plenty of research to be done into the nature of their relationship.

The most likely link between the two is that they’re both common symptoms of computer or digital eye strain. And because so many of us now use screens as part of our normal daily lives, it’s likely that a lot of us will experience dry eyes and headaches at some point.

So what part do screens play?

Screens do seem to play some sort of role in dry eyes and headaches. A 2017 survey showed that 9 in 10 UK optometrists had seen patients in the last month who reported problems as a result of screen use – including dry eyes, headaches or eye strain.4

So what is it about screens that has this effect on the eyes? To start with, when concentrating on screens for extended periods of time, your blink rate reduces by over 60%, or you don’t blink fully. This means that the eye’s surface isn’t regularly being replenished and moisturised with tears, and they’re exposed longer to the air, evaporating the tears quicker. Coupled with the air conditioning of an office environment, this can further dry out the eyes.

Headaches associated with screen usage are more related to the muscles in the eyes working too hard when concentrating on the screen. They might also be battling with glare or reflections from screens, which puts extra pressure on the eyes to get a clear image.

What are some solutions?

If you’re prone to dry eye and headaches, there are some tips you can try to make your eyes feel more comfortable and reduce your chance of developing these bothersome symptoms:

  • Keep a bottle of eye drops handy to apply throughout the day
  • Take regular breaks from your screen (20/20/20 rule: look away from your screen every 20 minutes, at something 20 feet away, for 20 seconds)
  • If you wear contact lenses, you might find it helpful to take a rest from wearing them while you have symptoms, and switch to your glasses for a bit
  • Have regular eye tests (every two years) to make sure your prescription is up to date and there’s nothing else that could be causing your symptoms
  • If you’re a glasses wearer, ask about our UltraClear SuperClean lens treatment which can reduce reflections.
  • If you wear varifocals, ask about our SuperDigital lenses, specifically designed to cater for the position we use handheld digital screens, reducing eye strain. They also include our UltraClear SuperClean lens treatment.

If your eyes feel uncomfortable, or aren’t feeling any better after these tips, call your local store for some advice, they might recommend that you come in for a chat with one of our opticians.

References

1. NCBI. The relationship between dry eye and migraine [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p... [Accessed 6 November 2019].

2. NCBI. Dry eyes and migraines: is there really a correlation? [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p... [Accessed 6 November 2019].
3. NCBI. Chronic migraine is associated with reduced corneal nerve fiber density and symptoms of dry eye. [Online]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p... [Accessed 6 November 2019].
4. Association of Optometrists (no date). AOP position: visible blue light [Online]. Available at: https://www.aop.org.uk/advice-... [Accessed 5 November 2019].
5. Bausch + Lomb (20 Jun 2017). The impact of social media and proximity of digital screens is having on our eyes [Online]. Available at: https://bausch.co.uk/news/blin... [Accessed 6 November 2019].