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Can Eye Strain Cause Headaches?

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No one enjoys a headache, especially if they happen regularly. If you experience frequent headaches, could eye strain be the cause? A visit to your eye doctor may help you better understand what’s causing your headaches. 

Before you reach out to your optometrist, continue reading to learn more about eye strain, including if it can cause headaches. 

Can Eye Strain Cause Headaches? 

Yes, eye strain can cause headaches. It’s a common symptom of eye strain, which happens when you spend extended time focusing on certain tasks, like computer work. 

What Is Eye Strain? 

Eye strain occurs when your eyes become tired and irritated from extended focus and use. This condition isn’t damaging to your eyes and typically goes away once you rest or improve your discomfort. However, eye strain can significantly affect your quality of life when you experience it, affecting your ability to focus and enjoy daily activities. 

Some common symptoms of eye strain include: 

  • Sore, tired, or itchy eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Headache
  • Sore neck or shoulders
  • Light sensitivity
  • Trouble focusing
  • Difficulty keeping your eyes open

You can experience eye strain during any activity involving intense focus, including reading, driving, close-up work, or digital device use. 

Digital Eye Strain

Digital eye strain is a term to describe discomfort and irritation when using digital devices like phones, computers, tablets, or other devices. With how often the average American worker spends on their computer (7 hours!), it’s no surprise many people struggle with regular discomfort. 

While digital eye strain symptoms go away with time, they’re still annoying to deal with. Tired eyes, blurry vision, and headaches can worsen your day. However, you can prevent or relieve these symptoms with help from your eye doctor. 

They can review your digital habits and see how they can improve your digital device use. 

What Causes Digital Eye Strain? 

The cause of digital eye strain isn’t your devices themselves but the way you use them. Digital screens make your eyes work harder to focus, leading to a greater chance of eye strain. Additionally, how people use their devices can affect digital eye strain development. 

Many people blink less when using their digital devices, look at screens from poor distances, and use devices with glare or reflection. Additionally, symptoms can occur because of: 

  • Glare on a device’s screen
  • Poor posture when using digital devices
  • Poor workstation setup
  • Circulating air from a fan or air conditioning unit 

Trigeminal Dysphoria

For some people, the headaches and eye strain they experience aren’t due to their digital devices or other eye strain causes. Instead, it happens because of trigeminal dysphoria. This condition is a term to describe eye strain caused by close-up work. 

You may have an undiagnosed eye misalignment causing your visual system to work harder to focus. Your eyes constantly make small adjustments, stressing the trigeminal nerve. 

The trigeminal ganglion can become overstimulated when working up close, like on your digital devices. This overstimulation can lead to headaches, eye strain, and other irritating symptoms. 

Your eye doctor can diagnose the cause of your headaches and eye strain symptoms during an eye exam. They can determine whether they occur due to extended focusing or trigeminal dysphoria. 

a woman holds her temples in attempt to relieve her headache from eye strain

Treating & Preventing Eye Strain 

Treating and preventing future eye strain can involve making changes to your daily habits or investing in specialized eyewear. If an eye condition causes your eye strain, your doctor may recommend Neurolens.

At-Home Tips

If you’re looking to prevent future irritation, consider trying some of these tips: 

  • Take breaks: Regular breaks when completing close-up work can help prevent unnecessary eye strain. Try out the 20-20-20 rule—have a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something at least 20 feet away
  • Adjust your lighting: Remember to adjust your lighting for improved comfort. Match the lighting of your digital screens to the room lighting. 
  • Avoid incoming glare: Position your screen away from incoming sunlight and overhead lighting to reduce the amount of glare hitting your eyes. 
  • Remember to blink: It’s common to blink less when using digital devices, so ensure you’re setting reminders to blink & moisten your eyes. 
  • Set up your workstation well: A good workstation can help avoid irritation. Have your computer screen at least an arm’s length away, have a comfortable chair where your feet can rest on the floor, & ensure your screen is below eye level. 


Neurolens is a specialty lens designed to help correct eye misalignment. These lenses help when looking at digital screens, relieving eye strain symptoms. Previous research found that 93% of patients using Neurolens reported a reduction in their overall symptoms, and 73% said their symptoms were virtually gone after 90 days.

Relieve Your Headaches

No matter the cause of your headaches, you deserve relief. That relief is possible with help from your eye doctor. They can determine the cause of your symptoms and recommend ways to improve your comfort, whether with specialty lenses or changes to your digital habits. 

Contact your eye doctor if you experience frequent headaches when focusing on close-up work. 

Written by Dr. Sara Johnson

Dr. Sara Whitney graduated with a B.S. in Biochemistry from Rockford College in Rockford, IL and received her Doctor of Optometry degree from Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, TN. As an optometry student, Dr. Whitney completed a primary care externship in Wilmington, NC, and a hospital-based rotation at the Naval Health Clinic of Corpus Christi in Corpus Christi, TX. Dr. Whitney has cared for patients as an optometrist in the Colorado Springs area since May of 2009. She has experience in family eye care, including pediatric eye examination, adult eye care, treatment and management of ocular disease, contact lens fitting, and eye surgery co-management. Colorado State licensed and certified in ocular pharmaceutical agents, Dr. Whitney’s training and experience allow her to diagnose, treat, and manage or co-manage all eye conditions. Professional memberships include the American Optometric Association, Colorado Optometric Association, and Southern Colorado Optometric Society.
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