According to Rizwan Bashir, MD, a board-certified neurologist at AICA Orthopedics, eye strain is the most common culprit behind screen headaches.
“When you’re looking at screens for long periods of time, your eyes are straining to focus and engage on the screen, meaning blinking less, focusing too hard, and just overall working overtime,” Dr. Bashir told POPSUGAR.
We’re all spending more time in front of screens these days, whether we’re talking to family or coworkers on Zoom, scrolling through TikTok dance challenges, or binge-watching television until Netflix asks, “Are you still watching?” While these devices enable us to connect with others and get things done more efficiently, all that time staring at a screen might also be causing you some extra headaches, literally and figuratively.
Howard R. Krauss, MD, a surgical neuro-ophthalmologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, has coined a term for this phenomenon: ocular confinement syndrome, which he describes as “increased irritation, burning, tearing, redness, eye strain, fatigue, and headache, as a consequence of increased screen time at home in relation to quarantine, work from home, and shelter at home.”
Dr. Krauss explained that, when we’re concentrating on a screen, we actually blink less frequently, because blinking would momentarily take our eyes away from what we’re reading or watching. Unfortunately, reduced blinking breaks up the tear film, which covers the eye and helps protect it and keep it moisturized. As a result, our eyes get dry. This naturally causes the brain to want to close the eyelids, “but in our desire to keep watching or reading, we consciously or more often subconsciously struggle to keep the eyes open, leading to more dryness and more muscle spasm, until we end up with ‘eye strain,’ or eye aches or a headache,” Dr. Krauss told POPSUGAR.
Essentially, the screens we can’t seem to quit are causing a battle between our brains and our eyes, and we’re on the losing end. If your eyes are starting to hurt just reading this, first take a nice, long blink – or maybe a few for good measure – and then read ahead for tips on how to keep screen headaches at bay.