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The Download on Computer Vision Syndrome

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— June 6, 2017

The Download on Computer Vision Syndrome

  • DOING DIGITAL ALL DAY LONG CAN BE HARD ON YOUR EYES
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After spending time texting or using your computer or tablet, does your vision get blurry? You could have computer vision syndrome, a.k.a. digital eyestrain. The condition results from using digital devices for hours day after day. Prolonged screen time can cause eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain. Computer vision syndrome can even lead to permanent nearsightedness.

The Long View

Computer vision syndrome is rooted in evolution. “Our eyes are designed for long-distance viewing so we can see the predator that’s coming,” says Andrea Thau, OD, president of the American Optometric Association. When you’re staring at a screen, especially when, say, you’re under the gun at work, you’re focusing closely. It’s the opposite of what your brain is programmed to do in stressful situations—hone in on distant objects. The imbalance contributes to digital eyestrain, Thau says. The nature of screen time itself compounds the problem. “It’s easier for our eyes to zoom in on threedimensional objects, such as the printed page, because the words and letters are more precisely defined,” Thau says. To decipher pixilated words, your eyes must work harder to focus. What’s more, “when we text, we tend to bring the device in close,” Thau adds. “The closer the device, the more your eyes have to cross to focus.”

Preserving Your Vision

Computer vision syndrome can be uncomfortable and make you less effective at work. It can also lead to permanent changes in your eyesight. “If you have good vision your whole life and it starts to get blurry in your 20s, your eyes are adapting to the visual stress,” Thau says. “Your body is building in a pair of reading glasses at the expense of your distance vision.” To avoid potentially permanent vision problems, do what you can to correct the problem. Fortunately, computer use-related nearsightedness and computer vision syndrome, in general, is temporary—if you take action now.

SEE THE EYE DOCTOR If you have symptoms of computer vision syndrome, such as dry eyes or blurry vision, make an eye appointment. “You want to make sure you don’t have allergies, an infection or something more chronic,” says Kelly Nichols, OD, dean of the school of optometry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Tell the optometrist about the electronic devices you use and how you use them. Besides computer vision syndrome, dry eyes and blurry vision could indicate an underlying condition such as a thyroid problem or Sjögren’s disease, an autoimmune disorder. If all’s well, your eye doctor can check your eyeglass or contact lens prescription to make sure it’s appropriate for computer work. While you’re at the eye doctor, ask about getting fitted for special computer glasses with a coating that filters blue and violet light. Digital screens emit blue light, a high-energy, short-wavelength light that can contribute to computer vision syndrome and can cause sleep disorders. Your doctor may recommend vision therapy. It’s a series of coordinated exercises done in the office and at home to train your brain and eyes to work together better as a team. “Vision therapy can make an enormous difference in your performance and production at work,” Thau says.

DON’T FORGET TO BLINK It’s normal to blink 10 to 30 times per minute. But when using a computer or tablet, you’ll typically blink 25% less, which can dry out your eyes. “Blinking is like a windshield wiper for your eyes,” Thau says. Every time you blink, your eyes are coated with a cleansing film. To keep your eyes moist, “try to blink more often,” Thau says, such as every time you use your computer mouse.

GIVE YOUR EYES A BREAK To counteract close computer work, force your eyes to relax by following the American Optometric Association’s 20-20-20 rule: Take a 20-second screen break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes. Every hour or so, get up and stretch your legs, too. “It’s important to take rest breaks,” Thau says. Set reminders on your phone to get up from your desk and look away.

DERAIL DESK DISTRESS How and where you do your work can contribute to the development of computer vision syndrome. To set up your work station so that it’s easy on your eyes, be sure to position your computer properly. If you’re using a desktop monitor, it should be 20 to 28 inches away at 15 to 20 degrees below eye level, so that you’re slightly looking down when you’re working. Control glare from any overhead lighting with a screen glare filter. Also, make sure you’re not sitting right beneath an overhead vent. “Be aware of your environment. Blowing air from a fan or vent can cause your eyes to become dry and irritated,” Nichols says.

DON’T DO DROPS If you’re tempted to use commercial eye drops because your eyes are irritated after working at your computer, think again. “Some over-the-counter eye drops have strong preservatives that can make your eyes appear brighter by constricting blood vessels,” Thau says. The downside? When the drops wear off, there’s a rebound effect and your eyes can become redder than ever. Your optical practitioner will recommend eye drops if you need them for a specific reason.

Easing Achy Eyes
Make a soothing compress Herbs such as chamomile, eyebright, and fennel can be made into teas by pouring one cup of freshly boiled water over one teaspoon of herb and steeping for 10 to 15 minutes. You then apply the tea to closed eyes with cotton pads or a clean cotton cloth for 10 to 15 minutes. Use chamomile tea that has been chilled (avoid it altogether if you’re allergic to ragweed) or the other two as warm compresses.
Brighten things up with bilberry This blueberry relative has been found to help nourish the eyes and improve vision. Take in supplement form as directed on the package.
Try acupuncture “The problem with close work is that our eye muscles basically get into a state of contraction,” explains Afua Bromley, LAc, of Acupuncture Saint Louis & Wellness Center. “We’ll do points that increase blood flow to the eyes and to the muscles that help control our vision.” She adds, “Many of the points are far away from the eyes— a point at the top of the foot, for example,” which shares the same meridian, or energy channel, as the eye. Bromley says acupuncturists will also do Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnostic tests such as tongue and pulse checks; otherwise, “you may be putting a Band-Aid on a deeper issue.” You can find an acupuncturist through nccaom.org (click on the Visitors tab).

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