In this modern age of advanced technology, people use computers ;at work, at home, in schools and at research centers,etc…. Many people use computers for recreational purposes like playing games, watching movies and reading their favorite novel.
These allseem,un-doubtfully,fine as computers have improved the quality of our lives and have made life easier. We can perform our tasks very fast and efficiently. On the other hand, their use has entailed serious health problems among users. Office workers tend to sit at one place, in a particular positionfor long hours without moving their bodies. This leads to the development ofpain in the neck, shoulders and backs. Lack of mobility (physical inactivity) causes weight gain and obesity, generalized weakness and even more concerning complications like blood clotting in the deep veins (deep vein thrombosis) of our limbs.
The other ill effects of computer use are eye problemsthat have become more frequent by the day. It is known that 50 -90% of people who usecomputers regularly develop problems like eye strain and/or pain. This has been the case in different parts of the world and one may wonder why this is happening.
The simple explanation is that we stay glued to our computer screens for an extended period of time moving our eyes right and left as we read on and on causing bombardment of the eyes by the bright light from our screens. This causes glare. We all get so absorbed in our work that we even forget to blink!Normally we have to blink 15 to 20 times per minutehelping the distribution of tear film for smooth eye function. This rate may,however, be reduced by about half causing evaporation of the tear film that leads to dryness and irritation of the eyes.
The continuous gaze on screens causes strainon eye muscles that keep our eyes focused atnear targets. Like any other tissue in our body, these muscles succumb tothe effect of overwork called“fatigue”. In addition to dryness and glare, muscle fatigue adds to the problem of eye strain and pain. That is not all!
We may have sight problems that make close vision difficult. Or we may be over 40 years of age and reading becomes not so easy as it used to be (a condition known as presbyopia). These additional refractive factors make computer vision even more difficult. No wonder we experience eye fatigue or strain and even headache after using our computers.
All these aforementioned factors impose constraints on our eye health which may manifest in the form of blurred vision, double vision, dryness of the eyes, burning sensation or irritation, red itchy eyes, and headache. These symptoms are collectively known as Computer Vision Syndrome.
Please note that presence of sight problems like presbyopia can cause eye strain even when reading a book. It is just to make clear that these refractive states will serve as additional aggravating factors causing worsening of symptoms during unwise and prolonged computer use.
Additional light sources like ceiling lights in the office or at home, or sun-light flooding in through the windows and reflecting on computer screens will add to the problem of glare and eye strain.
How can we reduce eye strain from our computer screens?
Take a safe distance from your computer screens. It is advisable to keep a distance of 20-30 inches from your screen.
Make sure that you position your computer screen correctly. The top of the screen should be at your eye level. The screen may be tilted by about 10-15 degrees to prevent reflections from ceiling lights.
Reduce glare from your screen by making minor adjustments like reducing brightness and contrast. Look for the presence of additional sources of excessive light in the office and do something about them. You may have to drape your windows to block sun light; to change the position of your computer screen or even that of your work table.
We must take breaks from computer work. “Oh breaks! What about my work load? Can I afford to take frequent breaks?!” you may say. Well my friends, I advise you to be concerned about your eye health too.
There is what is known as the 20-20-20 rule. What it means is we have to look away from our screens every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away for about twenty seconds. Don’t get so absorbed in your computer work and neglect your eye health. It is recommended that we take breaks from our computer work every 2 hours altogether. We can look out from our windows to focus at some distant target. This will relieve eye strain.
Remember to blink frequently. This will moisten your eyes and prevent dryness. If this doesn’t help, consult with your eye doctor and you may get a prescription for eye moisteners (drops).
Get a general eye-check upatleast once a year. Your eye doctor will give you glasses to correct your sight problem. If you have no sight problem, protective eye wear can be prescribed to help you fight against computer vision syndrome. Photochromic lenses with antiglare coating will significantly cut down glare and will make your eyes more comfortable. Money spent on such protective lenses is a wise investment as you will be able to work for longer hours.
Kids and screen use
It will be only appropriate to mention the impact of screen vision on eyes of young, growing children. The effect of computers, mobile phones and tablets has become a grave concern in the world. Children will experience similar eye strain as in adults with prolonged and unprotected computer use. They spend long hours on their screens playing video games, doing assignments at home or at school. They may browse the internet, etc…
The availability of smart phones in many households has subjected more children to grave visual problems.
A parent gives a smart phone to his child to play a game. The growing child spends a long time playing and staring at the small screen. The screen is almost always brought too close to the eyes. Such episodes will result in the following eye health problems:
Frequent exposure to small screens of smart phones and tablets keep their eyes closely focused at near targets and this may cause misalignment of their eyes or squint (commonly called crossed eye).
If this problem is not managed soon enough, it will become permanent and may lead to weakness of their visual development (a condition known as amblyopia).
It has been well documented that children exposed to screens for very long hours will develop short sightedness (myopia). In some Asian countries like Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea about 90% of eighteen-year-olds have developed myopia. In Western Europe, myopia has been on the increase affecting some 40 to 50% of young adults in their mid-twenties.
For proper development of eye function, children have to go out of the house in to the open environment to play. Sun light stimulates visual development and maturation. Dietary supplementation is also recommended. Food rich in Vitamins A,C and E like fish oil,avocado,carrots, mango, papaya and green leafy vegetables will contribute to normal visual development.
Screens emit blue light that causes difficulty to fall asleep and disturbance of sleep. We shouldn’t allow our kids to use computers and smart phones 1 to 2 hours before bed time. If the phone has a blue light filter, we have to turn it on. We have to instruct children to keep their screens at arm length from their faces.
More importantly,parents must accept responsibility and take charge of computer and mobile phone use at home. We must teach our kids about the possible dangers of prolonged screen use and that they should follow strict regulations regarding their use.
Negussie Zerihun, M.D.,D.C.E.H.,M.P.H. Consultant Ophthalmologist; Aroma Sp. Eye Clinic and Optical Center.