If you spend hours working at a computer, you’re a candidate for computer vision syndrome (CVS). The American Optometric Association (AOA) describes this as “a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer use,” and notes that as the amount of time spent in front of a monitor increases, so does the discomfort of computer eye strain. What are the real risks of spending too much time on the computer? And, more importantly, is there anything you can do?
According to the AOA, there are several common symptoms of CVS, including blurred vision, double vision, dry or red eyes, eye irritation, headaches, and neck or back pain. While there is no single cause for this condition, there are a number of contributing factors. First is the difference between viewing a printed page and looking at words on a monitor. In many cases, words on a computer screen are not as well defined as those in print. The print may be too small in size or have reduced contrast, making it difficult to read and forcing your eyes to work harder. Glare from overhead lighting and the angle of your monitor also impact your ability to read text, resulting in eye strain or fatigue. If you wear glasses or contacts, you may find it difficult to focus on the screen from a specific angle, causing you to turn your head or slouch to get a better view. The result? Back and neck problems.
Combating the Condition
Time magazine reports that 64 to 90 percent of all office workers deal with computer vision syndrome, but there are ways to minimize its impact. Start by adjusting the position of your monitor — ideally it should be directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away and centered four to eight inches below your eyes. This provides the best viewing angle and allows your neck to relax while you type. Next, make sure to reduce glare by using anti-glare coatings or screens, adjusting the monitor’s brightness and contrast and making sure there’s not too much (or too little) light in the room. Cup your hands over the sides of your eyes and see if this makes viewing easier or more difficult. If it’s easier, you need less light. If it’s more difficult, it’s too dim.
To limit computer eye strain, you should also make sure to blink frequently and follow the 20-20-20 rule, which recommends after every 20 minutes of work you look for at least 20 seconds at objects that are at least 20 feet away. In addition, stand up after every two hours of work for at least 15 minutes and walk around your home or office. Not only does this limit strain on your body from sitting all day, but it gives your eyes a break from electronic lighting. It’s also a good idea to have your eyes regularly tested — if you need a prescription, using a computer will be difficult no matter how many CVS-relieving tricks you try. If you suffer from astigmatism, farsightedness, or nearsightedness, you may want to consider laser vision correction. It can be an alternative to glasses or contacts as a way to avoid the angles needed for best viewing with glasses and the risk of dry eyes with contacts. Painless, professional LASIK procedures work by slightly modifying the shape of your eye to give optimal vision, rather than using a hard or soft lens to replicate accurate sight.
CVS affects millions of home and office workers — take the time to optimize your work station, look away, and walk around. Don’t neglect basic eye health, however; get regular eye exams and vision correction as needed.