Prevent Eye Strain: Do You Honor The 20-20-20 Rule?

Published on 09/28/2022

Our screen-based lifestyles have increased the cases of eye strain we see in our optometry offices. If you’re someone who spends the majority of your time on screens for work or pleasure, start practicing the 20-20-20 rule to prevent eye strain. 

Detect And Prevent Eye Strain

Eye strain is more than just a nuisance or discomfort; it’s a sign your eyes are working too hard. This perpetual strain leads to preventable vision loss. Taking care of your body and your eyes are the foundation of vision health and reduce the speed at which you experience age-related eye conditions or increased dependency on eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Signs Of Eye Strain

The following is a list of the symptoms or sensations accompanying eye strain. We also recommend reviewing this list with young children and teenagers. Children frequently experience undetected eye strain or vision loss because their adaptive brains don’t recognize it. 

  • Frequent headaches (especially during or after reading or screen time)
  • Red, watering, or irritated eyes that aren’t linked to an infection or eye trauma of any kind
  • The need to blink frequently to focus
  • Increased light sensitivity
  • Feeling tired or fatigued (especially in the eyes or areas around the eye)
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Dry eyes (more on that later)
  • Frequently rubbing your eyes
  • Sore neck, shoulders, or back (we often tense our body without knowing it when we’re straining to see clearly)
  • Tilting the head to see better
  • Winking or holding one eye closed to focus

Any or all are worth a call to an optometrist, especially if you haven’t had an eye exam in 12 months or more.

Practice The 20-20-20 Rule

One of the best ways to give your eyes a break to prevent eye strain is called the 20-20-20 rule. This rule supports healthy eyes for those who read, game or spend more than 20 minutes at a time on a screen. 

  • 20 Minutes: Set a timer for 20-minutes. When the timer goes off - take a break.
  • 20 Feet: Look up and away from your book, computer, or TV and gaze at least 20 feet into the distance. If you have a window nearby, we recommend shifting your gaze outdoors, which soothes the eye and the nervous system. Take a few deep breaths while you’re at it.
  • 20 Seconds: Take that vision break - gazing 20 feet away or more - for at least 20 full seconds. 

20-20-20 is a rule of thumb. As optometrists who see our fair share of eye strain each day, we challenge you to make it a 20-20-30 or 20-20-60 rule, giving your hard-working eyes the quality break they need. If you are a parent, model this rule in front of your children. If you’re on screens at the same time, make the break a family affair.

20-20-20 Bonus Practices

As mentioned above, a healthy body and lifestyle are the foundations of healthy eyes and vision. During those breaks, we recommend adding some bonus practices. 

Do some gentle stretching

Gazing at least 20 feet into the distance is a “stretch” for the eyes. As long as you’re taking a break, why not do some whole-body stretching? In addition to just plain feeling good, the correct stretches can ease your aching neck, shoulder, and back. 

Try this Yoga at Your Desk routine. Try this Five Minute Desk Workout if you want something more invigorating.

How about eye yoga to help prevent eye strain?

Yep, that’s right. There are specific eye stretches and eye exercises that work wonders for soothing and relieving strained or tired eyes. Try Eye Yoga: Five Eye Exercises… and see how you feel. You can also speak to your optometrist about eye exercises that relieve eye strain and improve vision. 

Dry eyes? Add a few drops of artificial tears (without preservatives)

Do you suffer from dry eyes? It’s becoming an epidemic due to tired, overworked eyes. Use a few of those breaks each day to treat your eyes with extra hydration and lubrication in the form of preservative-free eye drops. Examples of those include Systane, Refresh, TheraTears, etc. 

Look specifically for bottles that advertise “preservative-free” or “no preservatives.” This is because preservatives and chemicals can actually exacerbate dry eye or cause you to become dependent on eye drops. You can also ask your optometrist which type of eye drops they recommend based on your most frequent symptoms of eye strain.

Make Preventing Eye Strain A Priority For Children

We can’t emphasize enough how important it is that you keep an eye on your children’s vision. Schedule pediatric eye exams annually for all school-aged children. A child’s eye strain and vision problems are not always as obvious as you think. For example, we’ve had children who thought headaches were just a “normal part of learning.” We can’t tell you how many children figured eyeglasses wouldn’t help them because they tried some of their friends’ glasses and “they didn’t work.”

In addition to the physical signs and symptoms of eye strain, we listed above, children with vision issues are more prone to:

  • Lack of focus in class (especially when they aren’t seated close to the board)
  • Behavioral issues
  • Delayed reading
  • A dislike of school, reading, and/or homework
  • Feeling they are stupid or don’t understand things like others do
  • Poor test performance
  • Falling asleep in class
  • Intentionally misbehaving to get out of the classroom

A single eye exam and the right eyeglasses prescription may be all your child needs to gain confidence in the classroom environment. 

Suspect You Or Your Child Suffer From Eye Strain?

Scheduling an eye exam or a consult with an optometrist is one of the best ways to prevent further eye strain. Contact Eye to Eye Family Vision Care to schedule your appointment, and we’ll find solutions.