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Eye problem? Your computer may be to blame

Monday, August 18, 2008

Insurance Agent Dennis Furr with Glen Furr Insurance spends a lot of time on his computer which experts say can strain your eyes.
Staring at a computer monitor for hours on end is part of the modern workday. But, working all day on a computer can put a real strain on your eyes. In fact, a new syndrome has emerged related to staring at your computer for too long at a time.

Called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), it is not just one problem but encompasses a range of eyestrain and pain experienced by computer users.

Research shows computer eye problems are common. Somewhere between 50 percent and 90 percent of people who work at a video display terminal -- computer screen -- have at least some symptoms of eye trouble.

And, it's not just adults who are vulnerable to CVS. Kids who stare at terminals, play portable video games or even Wii can experience eye problems related to computer use, especially if the lighting and computer position are less than ideal.

According to WebMD.com CVS is similar to carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive injuries. It occurs from making the same motion over and over again. And, it can get worse the longer you continue the activity.

Working at a computer requires your eyes to constantly focus, moving back and forth, and align with what you are seeing. Your eyes have to accommodate the changing images on the screen in order to create a clear picture for your brain to interpret.

All of these functions require a lot of effort with your eye muscles. Working on a computer is more challenging to your eyes than reading a book or piece of paper, because a computer screen exposes you to screen contrast, flicker, and glare.

CVS is more likely to occur if you already have an eye problem -- such as nearsightedness or astigmatism -- or if you need glasses and don't wear them or wear the wrong prescription for computer use.

And, as you get older working at a computer gets even more difficult. The lens of your eye becomes less flexible so your ability to focus on near and far objects starts to diminish. This generally occurs after the age of 40. This is a condition called presbyopia.

Luckily, there's no evidence that computer vision syndrome causes any long-term damage to the eye like cataracts. However, regular computer use can be the source of significant eyestrain and discomfort.

If you have CVS, you may experience some or all of these symptoms: blurred vision, double vision, dry, red eyes, eye irritation, headaches, neck or back pain.

Making a few simple changes in your environment can help prevent and improve CVS symptoms.

Change the lighting around your desk to reduce glare on your computer screen. If overhead lights are too bright, ask your employer to install a dimmer switch or buy a desk lamp with a moveable shad that distributes light evenly over your desk. Putting a glare filter over your monitor also can help protect our eyes.

Rearrange your desk. Researchers find that the optimal position for your computer monitor is slightly below eye level, about 20 to 28 inches away from your face. At that position, you shouldn't have to stretch your neck or strain your eyes to see what's on the screen. Put a stand next to your computer monitor and place any printed materials you're working from on it. Then, you won't have to look up at your screen and back down at your desk while you type.

Give your eyes a break. Look away from the screen every 20 minutes or so and either gaze out the window or scan the room for about 20 seconds to rest your eyes. Blink often to keep your eyes moist. If your eyes are getting overly dry, try using eye drops.

Change your computer settings. You don't have to live with the factory-installed settings on your computer if you're uncomfortable. Adjust the brightness, contrast, and font size for your vision.

Visit your eye doctor regularly for an exam. Let the doctor know about any eyestrain or other problems you're experiencing at work.

You may need glasses or contact lenses to correct your computer eye problems. An ophthalmologist can help determine whether you should wear your regular glasses or if you need special computer glasses.

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Computer Vision Syndrome often involves dysfunctions of the binocular vision system such as eye teaming, focusing, and the accuracy of eye movement. Most eye care practitioners may not specialize in disagnosing and treating these disorders. Optometrist who are members of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development do so however. Go to http://www.covd.org for more information.

I also have a blog that keeps up to date info/research on these and other similar eye problems. (http://www.mainosmemos.blogspot.com)

Dominick M. Maino, OD, MEd, FAAO, FCOVD-A

-- Posted by dmaino on Mon, Aug 18, 2008, at 3:15 PM

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