If you’re like many people today the computer has become a very important tool for work and entertainment. Combine this with our current obsession with television and you’ve got a prescription for major eye strain.
The hours you spent on the computer and it’s affect on your vision is now being linked to a new condition called Computer Vision Syndrome or CVS. You may think that the only way to conquer this condition is to simply quit your job and retire early, but that’s hardly practical for most of us.
Fortunately, I have some good news for all of you out there who are suffering from eyestrain, headaches and pain. There are plenty of things you can do to alleviate this problem without taking any drugs or buying any expensive gadgets.
Looking Into the Problem
When I flip through magazines, I regularly see articles about back and neck problems, wrist injuries and other posture issues caused by working at a desk. There are ergonomic chairs, pads and foot rests designed to make your workspace more comfortable for your body.
With all the talk about musculoskeletal problems like these, you may be shocked to hear that Computer Vision Syndrome is the most frequent complaint on surveys of people who work in front of computers or other video monitors. In fact, 70-75% of workers experience some degree of eye trouble, according to the American Optometric Association. They estimate that 10 million Americans visit an optometrist each year due to CVS.
If your primary job function involves a computer you are likely to shift your focus constantly between the screen and files or documents on your desk. This process can force your eyes to continually realign as the images and text on the screen shift as you scroll through a web page.
These activities are hard work for your eyes. Unlike the muscles in your body, which get stronger the more times they lift a heavy object, the eyes do not gain strength day after day. You may feel better when you leave the office, but the pain and discomfort will simply start again the next day when you are in front of the computer.
Staring Down CVS
I find myself giving this advice to many patients who tell me they have persistent eye problems. All you need to do is make a few small changes to your environment, such as the ones I suggest below, and your eye problems should improve.
1) Check your prescription – Even a slightly under corrected case of near or far- sightedness can make you more vulnerable to CVS. See your optometrist to make sure your eyeglasses or contacts are the optimal prescription.
2) Manage Glare – Bright light in your peripheral vision can cause an irritating glare. Desk lamps, unshaded windows and overhead fluorescent lights can also cause glare. If you work in an older office, the lighting may have been originally designed for desk work, not looking at a computer screen. You can buy light filters that fit over your screen, but this should be a last resort. Lobby your employer to put up window shades or install dimmers that let you adjust the brightness of the light in the room.
3) Keep it clean – Most people rarely clean their computer screens. Imagine trying to shave in a bathroom mirror that was never cleaned or dusted—it makes things a lot harder. A clean screen will provide clarity and contrast, which are two things your eyes need.
4) Adjust your angles – Taking a page out of the ergonomic playbook, you should make sure your eyes are 20 to 28 inches from your screen. For eye comfort, your gaze should be directed slightly downward by about 15 degrees. Your screen should be tilted back slightly at a 10 to 20 degree angle.
5) Combat Dryness – The dry, enclosed air in many offices can be irritating to the eyes. It helps to stay hydrated and use artificial tear drops if you feel persistent dryness. It is easy to become absorbed in computer work, which slows down the rate your eyes blink. Take frequent breaks to walk around the office and refill your water bottle.
I know it’s not fun when a job you love becomes a source of physical discomfort. I hope now you know that there are plenty of solutions for CVS that you can try today. Just think about how productive you can be when you don’t have to deal with the pain of eye strain. You may find yourself up for a promotion in no time!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.