Computer vision syndrome, or CVS, is strain on the eyes caused by using a computer or other digital technology for prolonged periods. The level of discomfort increases with the length of time spent looking at the screen. Symptoms include tired, burning or itching eyes; watery eyes; dry eyes; blurred or double vision; headache; back, neck or shoulder pain; increased sensitivity to light; and difficulty focusing. Although CVS does not cause permanent eye damage, the symptoms can affect performance at work and at home.
When you stare at a computer screen, you tend to blink less frequently. Blinking bathes your eyes in therapeutic tears, moistening and refreshing the surface of the corneas. A lack of blinking causes the cornea to dry out. CVS and dry eyes frequently affect women more than men, especially women over the age of 40, due to hormonal changes and menopause.
CVS can also be caused by poor lighting, glare on the screen, improper viewing distance, poor seating posture, uncorrected vision problems or a combination of these factors. Viewing a computer screen makes your eyes work harder, and the high visual demands make many individuals susceptible to vision-related symptoms.
Your optometrist or ophthalmologist can diagnose CVS through a comprehensive eye examination and an assessment of environmental and work factors that may contribute to the symptoms. Visual acuity measurements assess the extent to which your vision is affected. A refraction examination determines the appropriate lens needed to correct the vision. Finally, testing is done to determine how the eyes focus, move and work together.
Many of us sit in our offices for eight hours a day, staring at the monitor and making the same typing motions over and over, placing a strain on our bodies and vision. After a full day, we are physically tired and our eyes hurt. There are measures we can take to make us more comfortable at the computer.
Make sure your work space is set up in an appropriate and eye-friendly manner. Keep bright overhead lighting to a minimum. Shine your desk lamp on your desk, not on you. Try to keep window light to the side, rather than in front of or behind you. Use window blinds and a glare screen for the computer. Position the computer screen to reduce reflections from windows or overhead lights.
Position your monitor directly in front of you 20 to 40 inches from your eyes with the top of the screen at eye level or below so you look down slightly at your work. Adjust the contrast and brightness on the monitor to a level that is comfortable for you, making sure the letters on the screen are easy to read. Consider increasing the font size for reading small type; use the magnification function built into your operating system or purchase screen magnification software. Keep your monitor clean. Wipe the dust from it regularly.
Place your keyboard directly in front of you. If it is too high, too low or at an angle, it may cause discomfort and fatigue in your eyes, wrists and hands. Place reading and reference material on a document holder beside your monitor at the same level, angle and distance from your eyes as the monitor. This reduces the amount of adjustment your eyes need to make and how often you need to turn your neck and hands.
Take frequent vision breaks. Remember 20-20-20: Every 20 minutes, spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away. It is reasonable to take a break every 15 to 30 minutes for a few minutes. Do other work, such as phone calls or filing. Stand up and move around every hour — a great opportunity to speak to a colleague instead of sending an email. Lean back and close your eyes for a few minutes.
Blink often to refresh your eyes. Consider using over-the-counter artificial tear drops to relieve dry eyes. Your ophthalmologist can suggest which drops are best for you. Eye drops containing lipids stay on the lens longer. Lubricating drops that do not contain preservatives can be used as often as needed; those with preservatives should not be used more than four times a day. If artificial tears do not help, consider obtaining a prescription for Restasis (cyclosporine ophthalmic emulsion). Avoid eye drops with a redness remover; they may worsen dry eyes.
Practice relaxation to ease muscle tension. Place your elbows on your desk, palms up. Let your weight fall forward and your head fall into your hands. Cover your eyes with your hands, with your fingers extended toward your forehead. Close your eyes and take a deep breath through your nose; hold for four seconds, then exhale. Continue for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat several times a day.
Once or twice a day, massage your eyelids and muscles over your brow, temple and upper cheek with your fingers or with a warm towel over closed eyes. Massage each area for 10 seconds to relax your eye muscles and reduce symptoms of eyestrain.
If you wear glasses or contacts, make sure the correction is right for computer work. Most lenses are fitted for reading print and may not be optimal for computer work. Your ophthalmologist can prescribe glasses for viewing the computer screen.
Eye strain and CVS can also occur when using smartphones, tablets or ereaders with smaller screens. Be sure to take frequent breaks. Consider purchasing one with a larger screen.
The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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