Painless Vision Quest

Help your eyes by screening out the latest computer syndrome.

By Karyn Maier

June 2005

The computer enables us to compile and communicate data faster than ever before, but it is also responsible for derailing workplace productivity. Millions have suffered from the dreaded and painful carpal tunnel syndrome (which affects the fingers, hands and wrists), but the new, most common malady among office workers is an eyestrain that has become known as computer vision syndrome (CVS).

While not as publicized an occupational hazard as carpal tunnel, CVS is actually far more widespread. CVS afflicts the 75 million Americans who peer at a video display many hours a day (including secretaries, air traffic controllers, accountants and writers), and the almost 150 million who use a computer on a less frequent basis. Of those, 54 million are children, our future computer programmers. The real eye-opener? The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health asserts that nearly 88% of all computer users will develop CVS at some point in their lives.

Focus Frenzy

The images viewed on a computer monitor are displayed by thousands of tiny pulses of light, or pixels. However, unlike the printed word, a computer screen constantly tempts the eyes to shift their focus back and forth between the pixels. In a typical working day, this can mean thousands of refocusing cycles and overworked eye muscles. So if at the end of the day, you are rubbing tired, burning eyes, experience vision distortion or get headaches, neck or back pain you may have CVS.

While CVS can be a real pain in the eyes, it can be cured. In fact, by taking a few common-sense precautions, you can delete CVS and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

• Wear Computer Glasses: They address the midrange vision needed for computer viewing. Generic computer glasses are available in some stores but see if your insurance provider will cover a PRIO vision test and PRIO glasses. This is the only test that uses a device designed to diagnose computer-related vision problems by simulating a pixelated computer screen to measure how your eyes react when viewing a monitor. The eyewear prescription is then geared to provide the best viewing comfort for you.

• Don’t Forget to Blink: Computer users tend to blink less often—an average of seven times per minute rather than the normal rate of 22 per minute. This can lead to eye dryness and fatigue so exercise your shutters by blinking slowly 10 times every 30 minutes to re-wet your eyes.

• Use Eye Drops: But not the kind that “gets the red out,” since these contain vasoconstrictors that shrink blood vessels and only aggravate tired eyes. Instead, use a soothing, moisturizing formula designed to mimic natural tears.

• Use Proper Lighting: Too much indoor lighting (or light coming in from outside) can cause glare on your computer screen. Avoid facing or having a window behind you and use an anti-glare screen on the monitor.

• Position Your Monitor Correctly: Make sure your monitor is positioned 20 to 25 inches away from your face and 10 to 20 degrees below your straight line of vision.

If these tips don’t help send your CVS into cyberspace, get a thorough eye exam and discuss with an optometrist a course of treatment that will have you seeing clearly again.

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