Computers and Your Eyes

On average, more than 50% of the work force now uses a computer on the job—and nearly 60 million people experience vision problems as a result. Their condition is called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS); there are a million new cases each year.

CVS may include:

  • eye irritation, such as dry eye; red, itchy, burning, or watery eyes
  • fatigue, including heaviness of the eyelids or forehead
  • difficulty focusing the eyes
  • headaches, neck, shoulder, or backaches, muscle spasms

Anyone who spends two or more hours a day working on a computer is at risk for developing CVS. The reason is simple: human vision is not suited for staring at a computer screen. Computer images are made up of tiny dots, known as pixels. Since your eyes cannot focus on them, you must constantly refocus to keep images sharp, causing repetitive stress on the eyes.

Tips to reduce computer eyestrain:

Get a comprehensive eye exam.
This is the most important thing you can do to prevent or treat computer vision problems. An eye doctor can accurately diagnose your computer vision problem and determine your correct computer working distance and may prescribe computer eyeglasses that will allow you to work comfortably.  Not everyone who works on a computer or has eyestrain will need computer glasses.

Use proper lighting and minimize glare.
Eyestrain is often caused by excessively bright light coming in from outside and excessively bright light inside.  Eliminate exterior light by closing drapes, shades, or blinds. Reduce interior lighting by using fewer light bulbs or lower intensity bulbs.  Reflections, fingerprints, and dust on the computer screen itself can also cause eyestrain.  You may want to install an anti-glare screen on your monitor, and if possible, position your monitor so that windows are to the side instead of in front or back.  An anti-reflective coating and/or light tint on any glasses that you use at the computer may also help.  Adjusting the brightness, color and contrast on your computer screen may also reduce eyestrain.

Blink more often.
Blinking is very important when working at a computer — it re-wets your eyes to avoid dryness and irritation. When working at a computer, people blink less frequently — about five times less than normally, according to studies. Tears coating the eye evaporate more rapidly during long non-blinking phases and cause dry eyes. Office buildings may have excessively dry environments that also reduce tearing.

For significant problems, ask your eye doctor about artificial tears that you can use during the day. By the way, don’t confuse lubricating drops with the drops that only “get the red out.” The latter can indeed make your eyes look better with vasoconstrictors that reduce the size of the blood vessels in your eyes, but they are decongestants and may worsen dryness and irritation with chronic use.

Also try this exercise: Every 30 minutes blink 10 times by closing your eyes as if falling asleep (very slowly). This will help re-wet your eyes.

Exercise and stretch your eyes – 20/20/20 Rule
Look away from your computer screen every 20 minutes, and focus for 20 seconds on a distant object outside or down the hallway at least 20 feet away. Another exercise to readjust your focusing is to look far away at an object for 10 seconds and then near for 10 seconds, rocking your focusing back and forth between near and far. Do this 10 times. Both of these exercises will help you prevent strained near vision and stretch your focusing muscles.

Take frequent breaks from close eye work.
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), full-time computer users should take a 10-minute break from computer work every hour to reduce eyestrain problems.  Part-time users should take frequent breaks after sitting in front of their display for more than a hour.

Modify your work station.
If you need to look back and forth between a printed page and your computer screen, this can cause eyestrain. Place written pages on a copy stand adjacent to the monitor. Properly light the copy stand; you may want to use a desk lamp, but make sure it doesn’t shine into your eyes or onto the computer screen. Adjust your work station and chair to the correct height. Purchase ergonomic furniture to insure proper screen locations and posture.

Exercise even when sitting.
Anyone in a sedentary job, especially those using computers, should stand up, move about, or exercise their arms, legs, back, neck, and shoulders frequently. NIOSH recommends several sitting, stretching, and joint rotating exercises for computer users.  See the HR OHN for more information.

By the Medical Associates Clinic Ophthalmology Team

The Department of Ophthalmology provides total eye care to the tri-state area. Medical and surgical treatment for glaucoma, cataracts, crossed-eyes, age related macular degeneration, macular holes, retinal detachments, as well as other diseases of the eye are offered. Recent advancements in detection and diagnosis of eye disease are utilized in the Clinic. Complete routine examinations of adults and children are available as well. Call 563-584-4415 to schedule an appointment.

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