The more that computers become a part of our daily lives, the greater impact they have on our vision. Research shows that the majority of computer users experience a problem so common that there is now a name for it: computer vision syndrome (CVS).
"Many people who view a computer screen for extended periods of time are experiencing increased symptoms of computer vision syndrome," explained Ophthalmologist Bart Brine, M.D. "Those, who view computer screens for longer than two or more continuous hours a day, can develop CVS because their eyes are working harder. The risk of CVS, as well as the level of discomfort, increases with the amount of computer use."
Causes of CVS
"The symptoms of CVS can occur for many reasons," Dr. Brine continued. "The good news is that these problems are easy to fix, and identifying and treating the underlying causes usually eliminates CVS."
"One of the most common reasons for CVS is related to the angle or distance used to view a computer screen. The angle used for computer work is different from that used for reading or writing. As a result, the requirements for focusing and moving the eyes place additional demands on a person's vision."
"Position your monitor directly in front of you about 20 to 28 inches away from your eyes," Dr. Brine suggested. "Many people find that putting the screen at arm's length is about right. If you need to get too close to read small type, consider increasing the font size."
Signs of CVS
Decreased or blurred vision
Burning or stinging eyes
Sensitivity to light
Back and neck pain
"Keep the top of your screen at eye level or below, so that you look down slightly at your work. If the screen is too high or too low, it can lead to a sore neck. If you wear bifocals or trifocals, keep in mind that you may have a tendency to tilt your head backwards so that you can see through the lower portion of your glasses. To adjust for this, consider lowering your monitor a few inches or buying glasses specifically designed for computer work."
"Place your keyboard directly in front of your monitor. If you place it at an angle or to the side, your eyes have to focus at different distances from the screen. In addition, place reading and reference material on a document holder beside your monitor and at the same level, angle and distance from your eyes, so they aren't constantly readjusting."
"Bright lighting and too much glare can also make it difficult to see objects on your screen, which strains your eyes," Dr. Brine added. "Letters on a computer screen are not as clear as letters on a printed page. Glare or too little contrast between letters and the screen's background can make the eyes work harder. This can result in a greater sensitivity to light that can worsen under high-wattage fluorescent lights."
"Position your screen to avoid glare from overhead lights or windows. Close the blinds on your windows or switch to lower-watt bulbs in your desk lamp. If you cannot change the lighting to minimize glare, buy a glare filter for your monitor."
Extended Computer Use
"Another factor contributing to CVS is extended computer use," Dr. Brine advised. "Try to rest your eyes periodically to prevent eyestrain. Every 20 minutes, look away from your computer to a distant object for 20 seconds. This will give your eyes a chance to refocus. After two hours of continual computer use, rest your eyes for 15 minutes."
"It is also important to blink often. People normally blink about 18 times a minute, but computer users tend to blink only one-fourth as often. This increases the chance of developing dry eye. To lessen this risk, blink frequently, and refresh your eyes periodically with lubricating eye drops."
"If CVS symptoms still persist, it could be a sign of a more serious problem," Dr. Brine concluded. "Check with your eye doctor if you have prolonged eye discomfort, a noticeable change in vision or double vision. Uncorrected vision problems, such as farsightedness, astigmatism, problems focusing or coordinating the eyes and eye changes associated with aging, all can contribute to eye strain and musculoskeletal pain."
Bart Brine, M.D., is a board certified ophthalmologist affiliated with Salem Community Hospital's medical staff. Appointments with Dr. Brine can be scheduled by calling his Salem office, 1059 East State Street, 330-332-9991; or 32 East Broadway in Alliance, 330-821-0314.