How do screens cause headaches | Part 1 – Eye strain problem

do screens cause headaches

Table of Contents

In this first part of the question do screens cause headaches, we will focus on the eyes, and what happens when they “take the beating” from that blue screen light, bad room lighting, lack of blinking, and a few other things. We will try to be as precise and concise as possible as this is something that a lot of PC/laptop users are asking on a daily basis, and is becoming a common issue these days, now more than ever.

We have decided to make a two-part article sort of a thing here to help you understand better that this problem is not just something easily explained, and something that should be taken lightly. However, just as a small “spoiler” so you could understand what will come in the second article – headaches from pc screen time are caused by two things – digital eye strain, and bad posture. Right now, let’s focus on the first one.

How do screens cause headaches?

How do screens cause headaches | Part 1 - Eye strain problem

A headache from too much screen time, or “Digital eye strain” as it is called today, is something that every person has experienced once in his life, even if they have never used a PC, laptop, or smartphone. There is a case study that was conducted in 2015 where participants were not exposed to mobile phones and tablets, but mainly television, which is pretty far away, and still – they were experiencing the same issues.

Computer screen migraine – causes

In general, these are the 3 things that we can mostly accredit this type of headache to:

  • Dry eyes
  • Eye fatigue
  • Blue light, screen glare, bad lighting

Even if it doesn’t sound as convincing at first, all of them have a simple explanation.

Dry eyes

Dry eyes might not sound like something important, but it is the second most common cause of headaches from pc screen time.

The moment you start looking at a PC/laptop screen, a TV, or a smartphone – you forget to blink.

The content is made so that you are constantly immersed in it, and cannot stop to think about the reality. Your body does the same thing – it delays some vital functions to help you stay focused for a longer time.

By not blinking for a long time, your eyeballs, and mainly the front of your cornea (simply put, the transparent piece of your eye where the color is), are not lubricated enough by your tears, and thus get abrasive. After you blink at some point, you literally scratch the surface of your eye, hurting it one little tiny bit.

After some time of repeating that, the cornea is damaged slightly, inflicting pain to the body, which is felt throughout the head.

Solution 1: Blink more often.
Solution 2: Stop after some time and close your eyes as if you were falling asleep, let your eyes regenerate tears and lubricate properly.
Solution 3: See your ophthalmologist and get a prescription for eye drops.

Eye fatigue

do screens cause headaches

The eyes can, like any other part of the body, get tired.

The part that gets tired at this point, is the intraocular muscles that are in charge of holding your eye lens. This happens after you don’t move your eyes from the same point on the screen, as the muscles stretch or spasm to make the eye focus on a certain spot.

The problem here is that you don’t let your eyes change their state for a long time and if they are stretched, they constantly lose strength and vitality like any other muscle. Your eyes will lose focus because they cannot accommodate as they should when the muscles are at their full strength, and be in pain as they haven’t had any rest for a while. The pain then spreads to the entire head.

Solution 1: Every 20 minutes – stop for 20 seconds – look 20+ meters into the distance.
Solution 2: Stop every 30 minutes and take a break from work/entertainment.

Blue light, screen glare, bad lighting

The “blue light” part of the spectrum is in the range of 380-500nm. These waves have a very short length, but the energy they emit is very strong. It may be interesting to know that sunlight is the main source of this type of light, it regulates how we react to up time and the time when we should go to sleep. In other words, we need it – but not as much as we are exposed to it artificially.

If we are exposed to artificial blue light too much, we are risking serious injuries to our retina and macula (the back part of our eye that collects information and passes them to the brain for it to create an image for us).

The problems that can be caused are:
-Macular degeneration
-Cataracts
-And even cancer

Due to its strength, the blue light, together with a bright screen, causes headaches to users who spend a lot of time looking at screens that have no blue light protection or filters due to overloading the eye with glare. The eyes simply struggle to process the strength of the light, sending signals to the head that it needs a break.

When it comes to bad lighting in a room, if the light is too low, or dimmed, the discomfort from looking at a bright screen will be higher.

Solution 1: Use screens with a blue-light filter
Solution 2: Use eyewear with blue-light protection even if you don’t have a prescription and see perfectly fine
Solution 3: Work in rooms with good lighting and turn down the brightness of your screen. Use dark mode if possible

General recommendation

Resting and stretching is something that is highly recommended, and even if it doesn’t sound as serious (because we all have to work, work, work), this is the easiest way to prevent these problems. All of the above-mentioned – dry eyes, eye fatigue, etc. cause headaches from too much screen time, and to be able to have a productive day at work, we recommend:

-Take a walk (even if it’s across the office)

-Close your eyes (even if it’s in the middle of an important task)

-Look in the distance for a while (even if you really need to focus on the presentation)

-Stretch (even if everyone is looking at you)

do screens cause headaches

As for stretching exercises, they are something that we strongly believe in and have put our entire lives into, stretching can help bring that blood back into all the muscles, and all the way up to the brain, feeding it everything it needs to get through the day. A 5-minute stretch every now and then will make you feel a lot better, and reduce the impact from all of the above mentioned.

We hope that this first part of the computer screen migraine explanation has been inspiring and we await you in the second one. Until then, stay safe and remember to take breaks.