Computer Users: Don’t Forget Your Eyes!

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By Stephen Cohen, O.D. – 

In the past 200 years, we have gone from hunters and farmers, to industrialists, to “computerists.” Clearly, the physical demands of each of these tasks are different. We now spend much of our waking day in front of a computer, viewing tiny details from no more than two to three feet away. In considering the “price tag” of computer use, we often overlook a potentially significant cost: our eyes. Vision complaints top the list of concerns from computer users. Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is estimated to cost industry billions of dollars in decreased productivity, absenteeism and treatment. Symptoms related to CVS include headaches, eyestrain, burning, tearing, redness, fatigue, fluctuations of vision and eyeglass prescription changes. As a matter of fact, there was just a report published that verified that computer use causes changes in our tear film that mimics (or causes) dry eyes.

There are a number of things that can be done to decrease CVS. Assessment of the workstation ergonomics is one area to consider. For example, the monitor should sit 10-20 degrees below eye level. Attention also needs to be paid to lighting conditions (e.g., glare from overhead lights, and/or from windows). A comprehensive eye exam is the next critical step. Most computer monitors are positioned further away than the distance that we typically hold our reading material. As a result, the glasses prescription for the computer distance can be notably different from our reading prescription. Just as we do not have one pair of shoes to meet all of our needs, computer users often find that they need more than one pair of glasses to address the various visual demands.

There is a new mantra when it comes to computer vision “health.” To help remember it, think of “20/20” vision. The mantra is called “20-20-20,” which stands for taking a 20 second break from computer work every 20 minutes and look at something at least 20 feet away (such as out a window, or, if none is available, close your eyes and envision looking off to the horizon. 20 seconds doesn’t sound like much, but you know how fast 20 minutes can go by. Think of it this way. Lifting weights 30 times in a row is harder than doing three sets of 10 with a brief break in between each set.

When we work on a computer, our blink rate, which coats the eyes with new tears, can decrease by as much as half, which can lead to dry eyes. Testing can be done to determine if dry eyes is contributing to your computer complaints. Lastly, a special lens coating can decrease glare from the computer monitor, which can be quite debilitating.

Between assessing and adjusting our computer environment, comprehensive vision testing and proper glasses prescriptions, we can greatly reduce the effects of Computer Vision Syndrome. In doing so, our eyes and visual comfort can be subtracted from the “price tag” of computer use.


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