Too much time on PC strains eyes

People who spend hours staring at a computer screen risk suffering tired dry eyes, blurred vision, eye strain, headache, and sensitivity to light - collectively known as "computer vision syndrome."

"Computer vision syndrome is a condition that is recognised by the American Optometric Association," Dr Kent Daum, optometrist and vice president of the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago noted.

"A computer is a challenging environment for the visual system primarily because the imagery is not as clear as it seems to be, and because of that it's harder for the eye to focus than it would be on ordinary print," he explained.

How the study was done
According to a recent AOA survey of roughly 1 000 individuals aged 18 and older, 82 percent reported frequent use of a computer or handheld device; 42 percent said they spent three or more hours each day in front of a computer screen; 73 percent admitted not taking computer breaks as often as they should and 10 percent never take breaks.

In addition to eye discomfort, computer users often experience neck and shoulder problems - particularly those wearing bifocals. "That's because their bifocals are often not set for their computer so they end up having to move their head closer to the computer while tipping their head back to see the screen. That's an awkward position."

Many Americans are feeling the pain of computer vision syndrome, with an estimated 10 million people visiting their optometrist annually for computer eye-related problems.

Daum said there is a "host of safe and very effective ways to alleviate computer vision syndrome. First, get your eyes checked regularly and work with your doctor of optometry to solve these problems. The doctor who knows you are using a computer for an extended period of time will do things differently for you then they might otherwise do," Daum said.

"Special computer glasses and computer screen filters are available to help reduce glare and eye discomfort."

'Don't forget to blink'
Remember to blink when using a computer, he said. "When we concentrate, our blink rate goes down, leading to dry eyes," Daum explained. He favours the 20/20 rule - "every 20 minutes look away from your computer for about 20 seconds; this will minimise the development of eye-focusing problems and eye irritation caused by not blinking enough," Daum explained.

Lighting in the work room is a "big issue," he said. "Reduce the amount of lighting at the workstation." For example, substitute a smaller light for a bright overhead light or install a dimmer switch to give flexible control of room lighting.

"You should not see any glare or reflection at all off your computer screen," Daum added. Furthermore, "you should not have windows in your field of view."

Finally, "be careful about the ergonomics of your computer," Daum advised. "The screen should be right in front of you so you don't have to twist to see it and the monitor should be right about eye level or a little below eye level." – (ReutersHealth)

March 2008

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