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Tired Eyes: Symptoms, Causes & How to Overcome Them

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Tired eyes are fairly common and usually brought on by extended screen time, long-distance driving, or sustained reading. Common symptoms include itching, a burning sensation, and droopy eyes.

The best treatment for tired eyes is generally rest.

Woman with glasses suffering from eyestrain after long hours working on computer

Tired Eyes Basics

If you’ve spent prolonged amounts of time viewing any sort of screen, it’s likely that you’ve experienced tired eyes or ocular fatigue.

Tired eyes can be classified in a clinical sense as asthenopia (otherwise known as common eye strain). Asthenopia can be caused by prolonged online viewing, driving for long periods of time, lack of sleep, bad eyeglass prescriptions, and extreme fatigue.

With the advent of personal computers and smart devices, more and more individuals are experiencing ocular fatigue.  Looking at digital device screens with high screen brightness for long periods of time, reading without breaks, and long-distance driving are the most common causes of ocular fatigue and tired eyes.

Young businesswoman using computer in dark office

Causes of Eye Fatigue 

In this day and age, the most common cause of tired eyes is extended amounts of screen time, whether it’s due to smartphones, laptops, tablets, or television screens. Work habits can also play a significant role in the development of eye fatigue.

Here are some of the most common causes of eye strain:

Too Much Screen Time

Too much screen time has its own term — it’s called digital eye strain. Staring at a screen puts a burden on the muscles that give the eye the ability to focus. When we look at digital screens, we tend to blink less, which results in faster disruption and evaporation of the film of tears. These tears serve as a protective surface for the eye.

There are glasses with special lenses available that help to reduce various symptoms of eye strain. These are especially useful for individuals who spend long periods of time working on the computer.

Long-Distance Driving

Driving for long distances and long periods of time also puts a high amount of strain on the eyes. 

While driving, most individuals tend to have intense focus as they observe traffic. The eyes track movement constantly in addition to having to read road signage. Because of this, driving for long distances is a common contributor to eye strain.

Driving might seem like an activity that doesn’t require a lot of energy, but driving brings on its own special kind of fatigue. If you are experiencing eye strain while driving, the best thing to do is pull over to the side of the road to rest your eyes. This will help you avoid accidents.

Sustained Reading

Reading small print books for extended periods of time and without any breaks can lead to eye fatigue and eye strain. Reading larger print books and taking periodic breaks while working through a book is a good way to reduce eye strain and eye fatigue.

Why Do My Eyes Feel Heavy?

The sensation of heavy eyes often goes hand in hand with tired eyes and is one of the subjective feelings of eye fatigue. If you’ve ever wondered, “Why do my eyes feel heavy?” the reasons are closely related to the causes of tired eyes mentioned above.

Heavy eyes are typically a result of the muscles in and around the eyes being overworked. When engaged in prolonged activities such as extended screen time, long-distance driving, or sustained reading, the eye muscles become fatigued, leading to that heavy sensation. This is similar to the way your leg muscles might feel after a strenuous hike or run.

Other factors that might contribute to heavy eyes include lack of sleep, dehydration, and underlying medical conditions such as allergies. The symptoms of heavy eyes may also present themselves alongside other symptoms of eye strain, like dryness, irritation, and difficulty focusing.

Ciliary & Extraocular Muscles

The eye makes use of a variety of muscles that all come into play when helping the eye focus on objects. These muscles need to be engaged and also need to rest when applicable.

The pupils of the eye are moved by ciliary muscles. These muscles have a way of constricting that promotes proper up-close vision. These muscles are also responsible for dilating the pupil, which promotes focusing on objects that are farther away.

When the eye moves back and forth quickly, the eye’s extraocular muscles are responsible for this sort of movement. Moving the eyes from side to side can certainly cause the eye muscles to become stressed and overworked, especially if focusing on an object that is small, an object on a screen, or an object located in a dark environment.

Tired Eyes Symptoms

Symptoms of tired eyes and eye fatigue will vary from person to person and depending on the severity of the situation. The most common symptoms of tired eyes include the following:

mans forehead eyes pinched shut
  • Sore eyes
  • Eye irritation
  • Inability to focus on objects
  • Dry eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Double vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Body pain, particularly in the neck, shoulders, and back
  • Slowed rate of productivity


Tired eyes are fairly easy to self-diagnose. If symptoms are only appearing when you engage in a certain activity or are in a certain environment, try to limit or avoid this activity until the symptoms subside. If you find yourself having ocular fatigue frequently, it may be time to visit with an eye specialist. 

Any lingering problems or more intense symptoms like nausea, extreme dizziness, or pain may suggest the presence of a vision deficit. Such symptoms can also be the result of a more severe case of asthenopia. Severe cases of asthenopia may require lifestyle changes or a doctor’s intervention.

If you visit a doctor for eye fatigue, the doctor will likely have you undergo an eye exam. Your doctor will determine the condition of your eyes and also be able to diagnose any vision problems. They will help you home in on what corrective measures should be taken to rectify the situation.

woman sleeping with ortho-k contacts

Treatment for Tired Eyes

Unfortunately, there is no medication that can help to relieve tired eyes or eye fatigue. Resting your eyes, reducing screen time, and adjusting applicable lighting can alleviate eye fatigue symptoms and restore vision back to normal.

If symptoms persist and get more severe, it is best to consult with an eye care specialist in order to explore medical treatment for your condition.


There are a few ways to prevent eye fatigue and reduce overall eye strain that may prove useful. Try these tips:

Reduce Screen Time

Reducing digital screen viewing can lessen eye strain. If your job requires you to be on the computer, try to make sure that you are not viewing a screen during your off time if possible.

Take Breaks

If you are working on screens for a sustained time, take breaks. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. 

Change the Font Size

If you’re using a computer or reading on a digital device, increasing the font size can help reduce eye strain.

Adjust Your Lighting

Making sure to utilize adequate lighting in a given area when working or reading. This will help reduce eye fatigue and eye strain.

Eye strain and eye fatigue can be caused by certain activities or can come as the result of spending a prolonged amount of time in certain environments with poor lighting. 

A Long-Term Plan

If you continually experience tired eyes, it’s important to take steps to change your habits and environment. Symptoms tend to worsen over time unless you incorporate lifestyle changes that rest your eyes more frequently.

The best way to deal with eye strain is to rest your eyes and limit the amount of time engaging in specific activities that put unnecessary strain on your eyes.

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