Eye strain is a condition that occurs after long ours of strenuous activity for the muscles in your eyes. For gamers, this will occur after prolonged screen time—short, rapid movements of the eyes and focus only on the monitor.
Eye strain is exactly what it sounds like. After staring at your screen for hours on end, the muscles in and around your eyes become irritated. There are muscles on the outside of your eyes for eye movement, and there are muscles inside your eyes to contract or relax the lens and pupil. Each of these muscles have the potential to become strained.
It’s important to know some basic eye anatomy to understand eye strain. As previously mentioned, there are 2 groups of muscles.
The first group of muscles are located outside your eyeball and move your eyes in their sockets. These are called extraocular muscles
The second group of muscles are located inside your eyeball and contract or relax the lens and pupil. These are called intraocular muscles.
There are 6 extraocular muscles that create all the movements of the eyes within the eye sockets. Four of these muscles are for basic movement:
There are two additional muscles that create eye movement in the eye socket:
Another extraocular muscle involved in eye strain is called the orbicularis oculi. This basic function of this muscle is to close your eyelids. More specifically, this muscle’s action can be described as narrowing the palpebral aperture, which is a fancy phrase for the action of squinting.
There are 3 intraocular muscles that contract or relax the lens or the pupil. These muscles can be separated into 2 groups:
The ciliary muscles are involved in the contraction & relaxation of the lens to allow focus on near or far objects.
The radial muscles of the iris will cause dilation or widening of the pupil, and the circular (sphincter) muscles of the iris will cause constriction of the pupil.
These muscles will work to change the amount of light that enters the eye. When there is insufficient or dim lighting, the pupils will dilate, and when there is bright light, the pupils will constrict.
Eye strain in gamers occurs when the muscles of the eyes become overworked due to playing video games. This is a combination of the limited area space where you focus your gaze and the static depth of focus.
While gaming, most people use a monitor that’s in the range of 20-24 inches. During game play, your eyes will almost always stay within the frame of the monitor.
Exceptions include streaming or other activities where you have a dual monitor and your attention goes off screen, but the majority of your gaze will be within your gaming monitor.
In addition to the small area, many games will require your eyes to move rapidly around the screen. Whether searching for the enemy or tracking your character’s movements, your eyes will often move rapidly in this small space.
These rapid, small, repetitive movements can cause strain to the extraocular muscles.
While gaming, your monitor will, hopefully, be approximately 24 inches from your face (check your setup!). During game play, your eyes will only ever focus to this distance—unless, of course, you move your body or monitor closer or further away.
Exceptions include streaming or other activities where you have a dual monitor and your attention goes off screen; however, your focal distance will still be relatively close.
Because your focal distance is static, or fixed, approximately 24 inches from your face, the ciliary muscles will hold a static contraction. Remember, the ciliary muscles are active to bend the lens for near focus.
The ciliary muscles will maintain this contraction for the duration of your game play, which will lead to strain during long gaming hours.
The most common symptoms of eye strain include irritation of the eyes:
Another common symptom of eye strain is dry eyes, which is more than just lack of moisture on the surface of your eyeball. Symptoms may include:
The mechanism of eye strain in gamers is partially explained in Pathophysiology above.
Moving your eyes quickly and rapidly in a small space combined with a short, static focal distance leads to eye strain, but there is also one more concern with gaming: blinking!
Blinking provides hydration to the eyes using moisture from tears and mucous secretions. In a normal, resting state, the average number of blinks per minute is 15-20.
However, while gaming, this number may be less than half. During the hypervigilance of intense gameplay, you may only blink 5-10 times, leaving your eyes at risk for becoming excessively dry.
Prevention of dry eyes is pretty straight forward. In short, take breaks!
Lastly, don’t forget the power of a good night’s sleep. If you’re constantly grinding to become the best, you will most certainly experience eye strain, and sleep is your best tool for recovery to continue gaming tomorrow.
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