Sore eyes: What to do at home and when to go see a doctor

07 November 2022 dot 7-minute read
Healthy Body Feature Sore eyes Live Well Eye health
Get your eyes checked regularly to help spot problems early. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Even as the world opens up, many continue to work from home. By setting up desks in their living rooms or bedrooms, people spend more time in front of their computers and digital devices, with fewer and shorter breaks, which could lead to sore eyes.
Based on data from DataReportal, between 2021 and 2022, the average person in Asia spends seven hours and 24 minutes looking at a screen each day.
We blink less often when we stare at screens. Unfortunately, this can lead to dry eyes, which can result in dull pain or soreness. As long as you do not have an eye infection or underlying medical conditions such as hypertension or diabetes, then eye strain, irritation or redness will usually go away with rest.
Here are a few self-care tips to help relieve sore eyes.

1. Take short, frequent eye breaks

Wearing computer glasses and having regular eye breaks could help relieve sore eyes. (Credit: Getty Images) 
There are several methods of eye breaks to reduce ocular symptoms of stress. Doctors highly recommend the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes of using a screen, look at something located 20 feet away (six metres) for a total of 20 seconds.
Alternatively, rest your eyes for three to five minutes, after reading or using the computer for 30 to 40 minutes. This can be done by simply taking your gaze away from the screen, and then having a quick walk around your office or home. You can also use this as an opportunity to stretch your body.

2. Fix the lights

Poor lighting can increase visual fatigue. Adjust your monitor's brightness to reduce the glare on your computer screen. Sometimes you need to tilt the monitor to a different position to remove the glare, especially if there's a reflection from a window or a light overhead. It's also more relaxing for the eyes if your screen isn't brighter than your surroundings.

3. Maintain proper distance from your screen

Experts recommend the computer screen distance should be 15 to 20 degrees below your eye level as measured from the centre of the screen and approximately a half metre from your eyes.

4. Wear computer glasses

Computer glasses are typically prescribed for reducing eye strain. These help your eyes focus on a computer screen, which is usually at a farther distance than, say, a book or a mobile phone. These glasses are different from those prescribed for reading or distance vision.

5. Blink more 

Blinking helps moisturise the surface of your eyes and keeps them from drying out. Research indicates that the human eye typically blinks as frequently as 15 times a minute. However, someone working at a computer is likely to blink considerably less – about five to seven times a minute.

Symptoms of eye problems

Eye strain causes irritability and discomfort. But if these symptoms persist and you feel intense pain, consult a doctor. Here are a few symptoms to watch out for.

Pressure behind the eyes

It's normal to feel pressure behind the eyes due to nasal congestion from a cold or sinus infection. Headaches are also one of the main culprits of pressure behind the eyes.
Migraines can cause intense pain in and around the eyes, dramatically increasing light sensitivity. Meanwhile, people with cluster headaches experience pain around one eye or on one side of the head. Headaches like these can also produce bags under the eyes and make the eyelids puffy as well.
Treating the headache or cold often relieves the eye pressure. But if you feel sharp, stabbing or searing eye pain, or if you're vomiting, experiencing eye redness, blurred vision or seeing halos around lights, seek medical attention immediately. These may be early warning signs of glaucoma, which causes damage to your optic nerve and leads to vision loss.

Itchy, red and sore eyes

Allergies can trigger eyes to become itchy, watery, red and sore. This is because you may have been in contact with allergens, from pollen and animal fur to dust mites and mould. However, redness in your eyes may also mean an eye infection like conjunctivitis, one of the most common causes of red sore eyes.
Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, happens when the conjunctiva (the tissue covering the eyeball) and the inner surface of the eyelids succumb to viral or bacterial infection. As a result, the eyelids become swollen and itchy, and the eyes become red. In addition, a mucus discharge can form as a crust on the eyelashes.
Viral conjunctivitis will resolve by itself within one to four weeks. Depending on your condition, artificial tears like saline drops may be prescribed. Bacterial conjunctivitis will require topical antibiotics, so it is best to consult with your eye doctor.
Whether the cause of your pink eye is viral or bacterial, conjunctivitis is highly contagious, so people who have it are advised to stay home and limit close contact with others.
One question that often comes up regarding pink eye is whether it is a symptom of COVID-19. World Health Organization does not mention conjunctivitis, but it lists "red or irritated eyes" as one of the less common symptoms.

Gritty or burning sensation

You may have felt gritty or burning sensations when you have dry eyes, which typically go away after using over-the-counter eye drops. However, if you have other symptoms like the feeling of heavy eyelids and sensitivity to bright light (photophobia), it may be dry eye disease (DED).
Getting diagnosed with DED – also known as dry eye syndrome – may mean problems with your tears. DED can also cause a problem with the quality of your vision if there is damage to the ocular surface system, which consists of the cornea, conjunctiva and a network of glands and tissues that help you see. DED needs a clinical diagnosis to get treatment.
Eye care always begins with regular medical check-ups and good hygiene. Getting medical protection insurance to cover eye health is a good move as it provides an added benefit for healthy eye exams that your regular health insurance doesn't have.
The eyes have delicate parts, so be extra careful about home remedies, especially purported pink eye treatments. Sometimes they can worsen your symptoms. Always consult your doctor on any self-treatment that requires you to put or apply something in your eyes.
Air travel can dry and irritate the eyes. (Credit: Shutterstock)
It's always better to know the reason for your sore eyes before applying any home remedies. As an example, if you don't have a cold, headache or prolonged screen time, it could be the air conditioning or low humidity.
Protecting your eyesight is also about breaking bad habits like rubbing your eyes. If your hands are dirty, this habit can lead to infections like conjunctivitis. Rubbing excessively can also cause your eyes' tiny blood vessels to break.
If you wear contact lenses, avoid sleeping while wearing them. You run the risk of infection that can scar your cornea and seriously affect your vision. If you've been working non-stop on your laptop for a few hours and start getting sore eyes, it is time to get an eye break. Try one now. 
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American Academy of Opthalmology. 2020. Computers, Digital Devices and Eye Strain. [online] [Accessed on 5 July 2022]
Asia Pacific Allergy. 2011. Ocular allergy in the Asia Pacific region. [online] [Accessed on 5 July 2022]
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National Library of Medicine. 2021. Digital Screen Time During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Risk for a Further Myopia Boom? [online] [Accessed on 5 July 2022]

This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

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