Itchy dry eyes, headaches, blurred vision, fatigue, neck pain, difficulty refocusing the eye, redness of the eye; do you have any of these symptoms especially after working with your laptop or computer for a very long time? Then you may be suffering from the Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).
Online encyclopaedia Wikipedia defines CVS as “a temporary condition resulting from focusing the eyes on a computer display for protracted, uninterrupted periods of time. Some symptoms of CVS include headaches, blurred vision, neck pain, redness in the eyes, fatigue, eye strain, dry eyes, irritated eyes, double vision, polyopia, and difficulty refocusing the eyes.”
Many users of computers and laptops are prone to have these problems and if not given proper medical attention, they may lose their sight in the long run. Many a-user with already diagnosed eye defects, often remove their recommended glasses preferring instead to peer at the computer screen with their bare eyes. Often times, they move very close to the computer screen in order to see what they are typing or reading. When cautioned to move back from the screen, they would retort “I am short sighted, my glasses are not for reading” or “I can read without my classes” or “why bother, the eyes are already bad”. Visual symptoms related to computer use can be caused by visual disorders, poor workplace conditions and individual work habits. Often times than not, sitting postures of computer users further complicates issues as you would find them slouched in front of their computers so much so that their muscles become stiff causing them pains especially on the neck. Computer Vision Syndrome describes eye related problems and the other symptoms caused by prolonged computer use this is mainly because as human dependence on computer continues to grow an increasing number of people seek medical attention for eye strain and irritation along with back pains, neck ache, and shoulder and wrist soreness. These symptoms are more noticeable with computer operated tasks because computer character generators (letters) are formed by tiny pixels causing the eye to work a bit harder in order to keep the images in focus.
A chat with some users further confirms the suspicions that spending long hours before the computer does affect their health especially their sight. Excerpts:
Zainab, a journalist who spends a greater part of the day in front of her laptop writing, said “whenever I take my eyes off the laptop, my eyes water and often it hurts. I have even been to my optometrist who told me that I should take breaks in between work for instance, if I work for five hours, I should observe a 2-hour break. He warned me that if I continue to spend 12hours on my laptop, I would loose my sight in the long run.
Paul a staff in one of the blue chip companies in Lagos with the laptop as his workstation, admitted that long stares at the screen usually leaves him teary eyed but apart from that, he does not have any other complaints.
Ada a banker said that she usually experiences blurred vision sometimes and teary eyes. However, she makes conscious efforts to take some time out from work in addition to the fact that she also tries not to do carry out any computer-related work once she is home from work.
Charles a business executive, while admitting that he has experienced teary eyes and neck pains in the course of working with on his computer, his knowledge of the effects of computer on human health has made him to consciously reduce the brightness of the screen, observe a 30-minutes to 1-hour break and also blink the eyes in order to reduce the risk of having dry eyes.
When asked, Niyi said that he has not had any cause to complain about his health since he started making use of the computer some ‘four’ years ago; but he is aware of complaints from other users ranging from teary eyes, blurred vision to headache. He even went as far as mentioning that sitting for long hours without standing up to exercise briefly, not only affects one’s level of productivity but it also affects a man’s reproductive system, a claim he says has been scientifically proven.
A study conducted in 2009 by Charpe and Kaushik shows that computer vision syndrome affects up to 70 percent of all computer users as a result of steady focus of the eyes on the computer screen. Visual effort is greater when focused on the computer screen than on paper this may be due to the fact that the eye which is normally supposed to blink 22 times per minute when looking on paper instead, it blinks 7 times per minute when focused on a computer screen (www.opto.ca
Symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome
Statistics from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health shows that computer vision syndrome affects some 90 per cent of the people who spend three hours or more a day at a computer. American Optometric Association (AOA) lists the symptoms of computer vision syndrome to include:
Eyestrain (asthenopia) or the tightening of the eye muscle caused by a prolonged and continuous stare at the computer. This tightness can cause eye irritation and produce symptoms such as fatigue, redness of the eyes and eye pain among other things.
Blurred Vision- this is a loss of vision and the inability to see small details. For computer users, this may be caused by the fact that the eye is constantly changing focus- looking back and forth between the keyboard and the computer screen as well as the inability of the eye to focus steadily on a computer screen for a significant amount of time. Bear in mind that ones eye sight begins to deteriorate when one is approaching the age of 40 leading to an eye defect called presbyopia.
Dry Eyes: Exposing the eye for a prolonged period to the atmospheric air directly while working with computer, leads to increased evaporation which causes eye dryness. Many computer users are in the habit of staring at the computer without blinking for fear of losing sight of the line or sentence they are typing in a document. Blinking helps the tear gland to be at its best to moisten the eye. Blinking is one of the fastest reflexes of the body. However, people tend to blink about half as much as normal when they are working on a computer.
Headaches: often times than not, many computer users complain of ‘slight’ headaches, some even allege that they have migraine. The fact remains that one may develop a headache after staring at the computer for a significant amount of time because the brightness and contrast of the monitor may produce an indirect glare which is usually hard on the eyes.
Back and Neck Ache: since the eye leads the body, many computer users usually sit in awkward positions while at the computer. Slumping or slouching can lead to neck and back pain among users while those who uses glasses including bifocal lens users, while at the computer, they may unknowingly tilt their head in various ways in order to see the screen clearly resulting in physical pain.
Everything that has advantage definitely does have some disadvantages; computer vision syndrome is one of the many disadvantages that come with the technological gadgets created by man. Truth be told, many corporate offices have invested in computer screen protector shields to aid their staff and protect their eye sight but more needs to be done to enlighten generality of computer users on the dangers inherent.
Below are some steps one can take to help alleviate the problem of Computer Vision Syndrome:
- Move your computer away from the window, away from too much light. Extraneous light or glare is the greatest source of eye strain for computer users therefore, computer users should use adjustable shades or curtains to control the flow of light.
- Adjust the height of your monitor. For maximum eye comfort, place the center of the screen five to nine inches below your horizontal line of sight. You should be looking just over the top of the monitor while looking straight.
- Users having dry eyes, should consult with their eye care professionals about lenses that provide wearers with increased moisture all day. There are recommended computer glasses given to increase computer users comfort level while at the computer. Furthermore, blink more often and have regular eye drops handy to help replenish the moisture in the eye.
- Adjust your computer display by altering the brightness of your display so it is the same as the brightness of your workstation. Also, when reading long documents, ensure that the display is such that you are reviewing black print on a white background. This would help reduce the reoccurrence of headaches to the barest.
- Endeavour to take some breaks in between your work hours. Short and frequent breaks are more effective especially when taken say 2-3 minutes in every 15-20 minutes or 10 minutes every hour. Give your eyes a rest by focusing on a distant object at least once every hour.
- The need to observe correct sitting posture cannot be over emphasized especially if computer users want to avoid back and neck pains resulting from slouching while using the computer. The best posture while in front of the computer is sitting with your back fairly straight, chin slighlty tucked in, neck slightly curved with only a slight roundness and hollow your back.
- Ensure you keep your wrists fairly straight while typing to reduce the likelihood of carpel tunnel syndrome, use a wrist support pad instead.
Dr Jeffrey Anshel an American optometrist further suggests adjusting the computer’s monitor distance. According to him “if you can touch the screen when you sit back in your chair, the monitor is too close. Use the “One Third Rule.” With your monitor on, displaying a typical document or email you use every day, move back from the screen until it just starts to become blurred. Measure this distance and divide by three; your monitor should be placed at that distance.”
Also, while typing or working on a document, try to affix the paper to the screen of the computer while typing this helps to curb the problem of poor focusing or blurred vision as the movement of the eye is limited to just the screen and the keyboard.
For computer users who also make use of other technological gadgets like smart phones and iPads, conscious efforts have to be made not to put these gadgets very close to the eyes ; where possible, adjust the phone settings to enable larger prints.