Long Time Computer Using May Lead to Vision/ Eyesight Problems

Long Time Computer Using May Lead to Vision/ Eyesight Problems

Eyestrain associated with computer use isn't thought to have serious or long-term consequences, but it's disruptive and unpleasant. Though you may not be able to change the nature of your job or all the factors that can cause eyestrain, you can take steps to reduce the strain. Often, eye shape is the culprit. Someone with perfect 20/20 vision has eyes that are basically round like a baseball. Someone who needs corrective lenses to see usually has eyes that are shaped differently.


Vision problems can develop before a baby is born. Sometimes, parts of the eyes don't form the way they should. A kid's eyes might look fine, but the brain has trouble processing the information they send. The optic nerve sends pictures to the brain, so if the nerve doesn't form correctly, the baby's brain won't receive the messages needed for sight. Blindness can be genetic (say: juh-neh-tik) or inherited (say: in-her-ut-ed), which means that this problem gets passed down to a kid from parents through genes.

Vision problems, including amblyopia and strabismus, are common in young children. Early intervention is critical to ensuring optimal outcomes. Unfortunately, many children with vision problems do not receive timely care. The overarching goals of this project are to develop strategies to ensure that all preschool-aged children receive appropriate screening and that those children with suspected vision problems receive appropriate follow-up eye care.

"We've known for a long time that television viewing is a risk factor for overweight, though the common perception is that this is due to the fact that it's a sedentary use of time," said Jean Wiecha, the study's lead author and a senior research scientist at HSPH. "This study provides evidence that television is effective in getting kids to eat the foods that are advertised, and this drives up their total calorie intake.

You may have been warned that sitting too close to the TV or computer can ruin your eyes. But actually that's wrong. You may also have heard that using a night-light (instead of bright light) to read will cause nearsightedness, but there's no clear scientific evidence to support this idea. You can strain your eyes if you don't have enough light when you read, but it won't ruin your vision.

If there is indication of optic nerve damage, the eye professional will conduct tests of the visual fields (the areas that the patient can see). In most people with glaucoma, the first areas to become noticeably impaired are the peripheral visual fields (areas of sight that are not directly in front of a person but more to the sides).

Some headaches may be caused by abnormalities of the neck muscles (called cervicogenic headaches). Nerves in the neck converge in the trigeminal nerve, which is the largest nerve in the skull. It originates in the brain stem and supplies sensation to the face. This nerve can generate pain signals to the facial area that the brain may interpret as headache. Pain is usually on one side. Even if it affects both sides of the head it is usually more severe on one side.

The quality of the headache may be difficult to distinguish from an aching tension headache or a mild migraine without aura. Cervicogenic headaches can result from prolonged poor posture (such as that caused by sitting in front of a computer keyboard or driving daily for long periods), arthritis, injuries of the upper spine, or abnormalities in the cervical spine (the spinal bones in the neck). Whiplash injuries involve the neck and can cause headaches, which, according to a 2001 study, resolve within 3 weeks in 85% of patients.

There are few professions left that don't use computers in some way, just as there are few households that don't consider the family computer an essential appliance.

But all those hours online can take a toll on your eyes, experts warn.

"An increasing number of people are on the computer huge numbers of hours during the day," said Dr. Kerry Beebe, an optometrist in Brainerd, Minn., and spokesman for the American Optometric Association (AOA). "It does seem that particular visual demand can be tough to handle if there's anything less than perfect going on with your visual system."

Studies have shown that eyestrain and other vision problems can occur in as many as nine out of 10 people using video display terminals at work, according to the AOA.

The most common symptoms are eyestrain, blurred vision, double vision, excessive tears, dry eyes and excessive blinking or squinting. Visual problems also can result in physical problems such as headaches and neck or shoulder pain.

"Some people will have all of those and some just a few," Beebe said. "But anytime anyone comes in with those symptoms, we automatically ask, 'What are you doing much of the day?' They often spend many hours on a computer."

The radiation put out by a computer screen has nothing to do with these symptoms, although that's a common myth, said Dr. Jeffrey Weaver, director of the AOA's clinical care group.

"People are often asking about ultraviolet radiation, but any UV radiation from a computer screen is minimal," Weaver said. "If no one's getting a tan from using their computer, then it's not a matter for concern."

But if you're having eye trouble during or after computer use, you should have your eyes examined, Beebe said.

"Many times people will have a focusing problem or a refractive error where simply wearing glasses while using the computer will take away those symptoms," he said.

You should also take frequent short breaks, every half hour or so, Beebe and Weaver said. During those breaks, which can last just a minute or two, you should fix your eyes on a distant object to help refresh your vision.

"Just looking across the room or out a window can help a lot in keeping your focus relaxed," Beebe said.

The brightness of the monitor should be adjusted to an intensity comfortable to the eyes, according to the AOA. That means not too bright or too dim.

Next, you should adjust the contrast between the characters on the monitor and the background so the letters are easily read.

Finally, minimize reflected glare on the monitor by using window shades or curtains and dimmer switches on lights. Bright light sources also should be removed from the peripheral vision.

"Most offices tend to be way too bright for computer use," Weaver said.

To further reduce glare, position the monitor perpendicular to windows or other bright sources of light. You can also buy an anti-glare screen for the monitor, or wear tinted glasses, according to the AOA.

Dry eyes are another common complaint, for two reasons. Offices tend to be dry environments, and when people are reading a computer screen they tend to blink less. To combat dry eyes, take frequent breaks and keep artificial tears -- lubricant eye drops -- handy at your desk, Weaver said.

Bright lighting and too much glare can make it difficult to see objects on your screen and strain your eyes. To check glare, sit at your computer with the monitor off. This allows you to see the reflected light and images. Note any intense glare. The worst problems are generally from sources above or behind you, including fluorescent lighting and sunlight.

You can also prevent eyestrain by positioning the monitor in an ergonomically correct position, according to the AOA. The monitor should be located 16 inches to 30 inches from your eyes, depending on how large the screen is and how good your vision is. Most people find it most comfortable to watch a screen 20 inches to 26 inches away.

Ease muscle tension with this relaxation exercise: Place your elbows on your desk, palms facing up; let your weight fall forward and your head fall into your hands; position your head so that your eyebrows rest on the base of your palms, with your fingers extended toward your forehead; close your eyes and take a deep breath through your nose; hold it for four seconds, then exhale. Continue this deep breathing for 15 to 30 seconds. Perform this simple exercise several times a day.

The top of the monitor should be slightly below your eye level, the AOA said. The center of the monitor should be 10 degrees to 20 degrees below your eyes, or about 4 inches to 9 inches below your eyes at a distance of 24 inches.

And don't forget to rearrange things when it's your child's turn to use the computer. In many situations, the computer monitor will be too high, the chair too low and the desk too high. Your office should have an adjustable chair that can be raised for the child's comfort.

Weaver said technology is evolving to help prevent eyestrain and vision problems.

Monitors have improved their contrast and resolution, and LCD screens, in particular, are proving easier on the eyes. Monitors also are including glare-reduction filters to keep reflections from causing eyestrain, he said.

"They seem to be easier on the eyes, although there's not a lot of objective evidence to say that they are," Weaver said.

Position your monitor directly in front of you about 20 to 28 inches from your eyes. 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.

Vision screening programs are important for finding those children with vision problems who have not otherwise been identified in other ways, such as screening by their pediatrician or family physician, or by complaints about their ability to see," he says, "These programs may be important for overcoming disparities in care.

Your child's doctor can help you determine whether you should be concerned. She may examine your child's eyes, screen his vision, and/or refer you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist).

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