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Eye Strain in the Elderly

Eye Strain in the ElderlyEye strain which is medically referred to as asthenopia occurs with overuse of the eyes particularly from viewing objects at a fixed distance over a long period of time. It is a common problem in all age groups especially in this day and age with long hours of computer use, watching television and reading. The elderly are often more prone to eye strain as a result of the age-related changes in the eye that hamper its normal functioning. Although eye strain can be a source of significant discomfort and even cause other symptoms like headaches, it is largely reversible and simple lifestyle changes can prevent it.

Causes of Eye Strain

The main cause of eye strain is fatigue of the eye muscles. These intrinsic muscles are very tiny and are accustomed to constantly relaxing and contracting to alter the incoming light at the pupil and bending of light through the lens. This allows for visual acuity. The extrinsic muscles of the eye control movement of the eyeball which allows for vision in several directions without having to move the head. With certain activities these muscles may have to maintain its position or be overexerted for long periods of time thereby leading to eye strain. Apart from the muscle strain, blinking less frequently or reduced tear production and secretion can further contribute to eyestrain.

A person is more likely to experience eyestrain if they are :

  • Staring at a computer screen or television for long hours.
  • Reading for long periods of time in a single sitting.
  • Driving for long distances.
  • Not using corrective lenses when they have refractive errors of the eye like myopia (short sight) or hyperopia (far sight).
  • Conducting the activities mentioned above in very bright or dim light.

The elderly are more prone to eye strain as the changes that occur in the eyeball to accommodate for sharp vision is impeded to some extent with age. The pupillary reaction to light may be slow or not as effective as in the younger years, the lens loses its elasticity and tear production may be lesser than normal in the senior years. This can be further complicated by age-related eyesight problems like presbyopia, cataracts and glaucoma which are more common in seniors.

Signs and Symptoms

The typical symptoms of eye strain includes :

  • Burning and itching eyes
  • Redness of the eye / eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Soreness or eye pain

Some people may also experience dry eyes, light sensitivity and blurred or even double vision in severe cases of eye strain. Although uncommon, sometimes eye strain does not present with any prominent eye symptoms. Instead a person may experience vague and non-specific symptoms that can be misleading as to the diagnosis. These symptoms may include :

  • Headaches
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Back ache
  • Fatigue

Treatment of Eye Strain

There is no specific medical treatment that is necessary for eye strain. In most cases the symptoms will resolve within minutes or hours. However, repeated eye strain can lead to various vision problems that may become permanent. The focus should be on preventing eye strain with the following measures :

  • Always use corrective eye glasses as prescribed.
  • Artificial tear drops are available over-the-counter and can help relieve dry eyes.
  • Give the eyes a break during long periods that may cause eyestrain.
  • Use sunglasses or photosensitive lenses of spectacles that can reduce harsh sunlight when outdoors.
  • Blink frequently during long term eye use.
  • Reading in the proper lighting is also important – dim light is usually insufficient for the elderly in particular while excessively bright light can be harsh on the eyes.

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