Eye exercises can be beneficial to improve the strength and function of the eye muscles.
The extrinsic eye muscles (recti and obliques) make the eyeballs move coordinately in different directions and also perform convergence and divergence movements during viewing of near and distant objects respectively. Intrinsic eye muscles contract to change the shape of the eye lens in order to help focus near objects clearly (accommodation).
Eye muscle weakness can cause asthenopia that is symptoms like headaches, pain around the eyes, tiredness, eye strain or fatigue, and vision problems like blurring, double vision, or a feeling of squinting. All these symptoms are generally more prominent at the end of the day, and after prolonged near work like studying/reading, and laptop or mobile phone use. Accommodation also decreases with age.
Here are 3 simple exercises that can be done regularly to strengthen eye muscles and overcome early problems due to eye muscle weakness. These exercises should be done every morning.
- Look at an object or your finger, kept at around 10-12 inches away from the eyes (your regular reading/mobile phone viewing distance) for 20 seconds.
- Then gradually shift your gaze to an object in the distance (like the farthest building or tree visible from your window/balcony) and look at it for 20 seconds.
- Now gradually shift your gaze back to the near object/finger again.
- Repeat this cycle 3-5 times.
- If you experience blurring or doubling at either near or distance, try to fuse to a single image as gently and slowly as you can. (It is fine if you cannot, and there is no need to put undue strain to do this)
- With your arm outstretched, look at the finger of your hand for 10 seconds.
- Now keep the focus on the finger and start moving it gradually closer towards your eyes.
- Hold for 10 seconds at the point the finger starts to appear double, and see if you can make it single with your focus. (It is fine if you cannot, and there is no need to put undue strain to do this).
- Now continuing to keep the focus on your finger, gradually move it away from your eyes till your arm is outstretched again.
- Repeat this cycle 3-5 times.
- Keeping your head straight, move the eye in all four directions.
- First clockwise: Upwards-Right-Downwards-Left.
- Then anticlockwise: Upwards-Left-Downwards-Right.
- Repeat 5 times. Hold in each direction for 2-3 seconds.
- Then close your eyes, and roll the eyes first 5 times clockwise then 5 times anticlockwise.
Remember to take the 20-20-20 break when you are doing prolonged near work on your mobile phones or laptop. Every 20 minutes, look at an object 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.
Dry eyes can cause and worsen asthenopia symptoms. Frequent blinking while working on gadgets, and the use of tear substitutes under medical guidance can give also provide relief in some cases.
- These eye exercises help to strengthen eye muscles and can at the most delay need for wearing glasses of a small number which are prescribed for eye strain.
- It is advised to first get your eye number (refraction) checked for both distance and near, and then start these exercises after advice from your optometrist.
- If you have eyeglasses prescribed already, these exercises can be done with the glasses on.
- Eye exercises generally cannot reduce or increase the eyeglass number.
- Eye exercises do not have any effect on the development of other eye conditions like cataract, glaucoma, or diseases of the cornea or retina, which can cause blurring of vision. When in doubt, these should be excluded by an eye specialist.
- If there is persistent double vision or the eye looks squinting (turning inwards/outwards/misaligned), it is advised to consult an eye specialist as soon as possible.