Dealing with eye strain and headaches when working from home

In these unprecedented times we are all dealing with many personal, health and financial uncertainties, often resulting in additional stress and strain as we adapt to homeworking. Dr Rashmi Singh, GP, takes a specific look at eye strain and headaches associated with the pressures we find ourselves under whilst working from home during self-isolation and lockdown.

Many of us are now working from home on laptops for longer periods, with less time to socialise with colleagues and all while juggling work and family life. These all add up to the perfect ingredients for a thumping headache and tired eyes.

Headaches and migraines

Headaches are very common and can be brought on by a number of factors. Tension-type headaches typically cause pain and a band-like pressure over the head and can affect the neck and shoulder muscles too.

Migraine headaches typically cause a severe throbbing pain, usually on one side. There can be aura, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light.

The table below highlights the different triggers for either a headache or a migraine. Many of the things we end up doing when pre-occupied with work can trigger both types of headaches and are within our control to manage.

Trigger Tension type headache Migraine
Muscle contraction: frowning/jaw-clenching and eye strain
Poor posture
Bright lights and loud noises
Stress and anxiety
Fatigue and poor sleep
Alcohol consumption
Certain foods and drinks: chocolate, cheese, alcohol, caffeine and citrus
Dehydration

Top tips for preventing headaches

  • Maintain good hydration – 2-3 litres a day is recommended for a healthy adult
  • Make sure you get enough rest – try to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night
  • Eat regular meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Try to relax – dedicate some “me time” to relax and unwind as stress can make headaches worse
  • Take regular exercise when possible
  • Rearrange your workspace to avoid physical strain on the back, neck and shoulders
  • Ensure your workspace is quiet and calm to aid concentration and avoid distraction 
  • Limit your intake of caffeinated drinks to no more than 4 a day.

Computer eye strain

Using the computer/tablet/smartphone, reading, watching TV or playing on the games console will cause eye strain if done for too long without taking a break.

Typical symptoms of computer eye strain include:

  • Headaches
  • Sore, tired, burning or itchy eyes and dry/watery eyes
  • Problems with focusing or blurry vision and light sensitivity. These symptoms usually settle after resting the eyes.

Top tips for reducing computer eye strain

  • Get a regular eye test. Tell your optician if your job involves spending a lot of time on the computer
  • Ensure you are using the correct prescription of glasses, if required, for the computer work you will be doing
  • Rest your eyes. Whilst sitting in front of your laptop look up from your screen every 15-20 minutes and focus on a distant object for about a minute. This helps to relax the eye muscles
  • Try to make sure your room is well lit, but not too bright. Natural light is great, but ensure that strong sunlight isn’t making you squint
  • Reduce glare and reflections from your computer screen
  • Make sure the font and image size of your screen text is adequate to read without hunching or squinting
  • Reduce the amount of blue light your screen is emitting by changing the display settings, if possible
  • Consider lubricating/soothing eye drops to help your eyes stay comfortable.

Additional health tips for working from home

  • Ensure you stick to a schedule. Get dressed and freshen up even if no one is going to see you
  • Eat a proper lunch and take a proper lunch break away from your computer and phone
  • Turn off your laptop at the end of the working day and step away from it. Separate work from home where possible by shutting the door or laptop screen
  • Stay connected with your colleagues. Try phone or video calls to stay in touch and keep connected rather than email.
For further resources supporting employee wellbeing visit here

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Last updated Monday 1 June 2020