Frequent Computer Use Can Tax Your Vision, But Doesn’t Have To
February 27th, 2004
By Louis Wittig :eCureMe Staff Writer
February 25th, 2004 : Physician Approved
You’ve just got a couple more pages to go before you finish typing up that report,
balancing that spreadsheet or researching that term paper - but you just can’t
go on. After hours of staring at your monitor, your eyes are raw and feel about ready to
burst. Sound familiar? Chances are it does, but you’ve never known to call it by
its name - Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).
Between work, school and home, 143 million Americans use computers - and according
to the American Optometric Association, 75% suffer the symptoms of CVS: dry, fatigued
and irritated eyes, blurred vision, headaches and neck and back pain. In addition to
countless aches and pains, each year CVS drains workers’ productivity and costs
$2 billion to treat.
As computer use increases, computer vision symptoms may edge out carpal tunnel as the
nation’s workplace scourge. Insurance companies have already developed new
policies specifically to cover the masses of sore-eyed workers who will file claims.
If ungluing yourself from a monitor isn’t an option, a few minor changes to your
computer use routine could make all the difference.
Computer Vision Syndrome isn’t a solid set of symptoms that can be traced to a
single cause. Instead, it’s a catchall term that encompasses a variety of
symptoms that resulting from a number of underlying problems.
One of the central difficulties is that our eyes just weren’t designed for the
type of work we do in front of a computer. In the course of an average workday, workers
are often forced to look back and forth between a computer screen and paper documents.
In most cases, the screen is directly in front of and a little above or below the
worker’s line of sight, while the paper documents are lying horizontally on the
surface of the desk. According to Dr. Jeffery Anshel, OD, an optometrist and CVS
specialist in Carlsbad, California, "we prefer to read at a lower posture."
When someone has to keep glancing between a quarterly report and an e-mail to the
boss, "they’re going from a lower, horizontal work surface to a vertical
one." The movement causes the eyes to have to continually refocus - something
that’s unnatural and can cause strain.
The strain of having to focus and refocus can be worsened by the drying out of eyes as
they look at a monitor. In a normal environment, people blink about 22 times every
minute in order to keep the surface of the eye moistened. Studies have shown that when
using a computer, the rate drops to between four and six blinks a minute. Though
scientists don’t know why this is, the results can be painfully clear: itching
and burning sensations, blurry vision, fatigue and heavy eyelids.
When dry eyes set in, people will arch their foreheads forward in order to keep seeing
clearly. Headaches ensue. As the pain from both eyes and head starts to weigh on a
computer user, they may unconsciously move around in their chair, or shift their posture
to try and alleviate the discomfort. These contortions can throw a body out of line and
cause back and shoulder pain as well as neck stiffness.
Difficulty in seeing can also be in the cards for glasses wearers. If you wear glasses
for reading, but your monitor is farther away than you usually hold your newspaper, your
vision isn’t being corrected correctly. Bifocals can present an additional problem.
Often, bifocal wearers will peer through the lower section of their lenses while reading
off a monitor, like they would if they were looking down at a piece of paper. Since the
screen is at eye level, not below, they’ll often have to tilt their neck -
which after a while can lead back to neck and shoulder pain.
The good news is that while it may be the 21st century’s most common occupational
hazard, there’s no evidence that CVS causes any long-term damage to the eyes.
Relieving the discomfort isn’t difficult either. Making a few simple changes to
your workspace and routine can make a big difference.
- Dr. Anshel counsels that when your eyes are feeling chafed, you should "try the
three B approach - blink, breathe and break." Making an extra effort to blink
while you’re working with a computer keeps your eyes from drying out, and deep
breathing increases their blood flow. When taking a break from staring at a monitor,
follow another simple rule. " It’s the 20/20/20 approach," says Anshel.
" Every 20 minutes, look away from your monitor for 20 seconds and look at an object
or point about 20 feet away." Doing so allows the eyes to relax.
- If trying to blink more doesn’t work, consider applying artificial tears
periodically to help re-moisten the surface of the eye. Many contact lens solutions
work great, though it’s important to stay away from drops that are marketed to
"get the red out" such as Visine - they don’t work in the same way
as artificial tears.
- The glare from surrounding light sources can make it more difficult to for your eyes
to focus on the screen. If you can, position your monitor so that parallel to light
fixtures or windows. If you can’t, consider fitting a glare-reducing screen
onto your monitor.
- If you’re doing work that requires you to look between paper documents and a
monitor, position the documents on a copy stand so that they’re at the same
distance, angle and level as your monitor. This will prevent your eyes from having to
- Position your monitor between 18 to 30 inches away from your eyes. This is the distance
on which eyes naturally focus. If you have difficulty reading text off the monitor at
this distance, consider increasing your computer’s font size.
- If you’re still nursing sore eyes after having taken these steps, see an
optometrist. Special tests have been developed to diagnose CVS, and special prescriptions
can be written to supplement the lenses you already have. If you don’t currently
wear glasses or contacts, long-term difficulty with computer screens might be an
indication that you need to.
Contact Louis Wittig at louis@eCureMe.com
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