By Eduardo Gonzales, MD
I’m a medical transcriptionists whose job entails working on the computer at least eight hours a day. I often have headaches and dryness and pain in the eyes, which I think is because of being in front of the computer too much. Am I right? What can I do to ease my problems short of changing jobs? —[email protected]
You’re right. Your headaches and eye symptoms are the result of spending long hours in front of the computer and the condition you suffer from is called computer vision syndrome or digital eyestrain. Digital eyestrain afflicts not only computer workers but many of us in the general population because we use screens (of computers, smart phones, tablets, and other gadgets) for just about everything—to work, to relax, or just to keep up with daily life.
Aside from your complaints, the other symptoms of digital eyestrain include redness, watering and burning/tired eyes; double/blurred vision; slow refocusing, and light sensitivity; head, neck and back aches; and fatigue.
Poor workplace conditions such as ergonomically unsound computer tables and chairs and improper work habits can contribute to digital eyestrain, but the condition is primarily caused by the computer screen’s stress on the eyes.
WHY THE COMPUTER IS STRESSFUL TO THE EYES
Despite improvements in design, existing computer screens are still stressful to the eyes. On the computer screen, there is lack of contrast among the characters unlike printed material that is characterized by dense black characters with well-defined edges. Furthermore, the computer monitor has uneven brightness. Also, the eye is usually further from the object being viewed (18”-28”) when viewing a computer screen than when reading printed material (16”-21”).
Likewise, studies have shown that when we work on computers we blink only six to eight times per minute, which is far less than the normal blink rate of 16 to 20 per minute. Blinking keeps the eye moist and prevents them from drying because when we blink our eyelids are able to spread the tear—which is produced by our tear glands on the upper outer region of our eye sockets—over the surface of our eye.
HOW TO PREVENT DIGITAL EYESTRAIN
If you change how you use computers and similar devices, you can avoid ruining your eyes:
- Ensure that your work area is well-lighted and glare-free.
- Keep your monitor bright. A bright monitor makes the pupils constrict resulting in a greater range of focus and a reduction in the need for the eyes to accommodate.
- Make certain that air flow from electric fans and air conditioners does not run across and dry your eyes.
- Use ergonomically-designed computer tables and chairs. Position the monitor around 25 inches (an arm’s length) from your eyes and a bit lower on the table than your eye-line, 10 to 15 degrees below eye level, so that you are looking slightly down at it.
- Raise the contrast on your screen and make text larger.
- Lower the color temperature of your screen so that it will give off less blue light, which is linked to more eyestrain.
- Cut glare of your screen by using a matte screen filter.
- If you wear contact lenses, replace them with eyeglasses.
- Consciously blink frequently to prevent dryness of your eyes. You can also use artificial tears to keep your eyes moist when they feel dry.
- Take regular breaks. Follow the 20-20-20 rule—every twenty minutes look at an object that is about twenty feet away and focus on it for 20 seconds. Take a longer break of about 15 minutes after every two hours you spend on your device. Use features of special screen-saver programs as an alarm that will alert you when it is time to take a break.
- Wear computer glasses. These special eyeglasses can usually be secured from reputable eyewear stores. Computer glasses have a different focal point than reading glasses. They reduce the effort of focusing that computer screens demand. Extra effort to focus causes tension in the eye muscles, which in addition to causing eye discomfort can lead to an increase in eye pressure.
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