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Smart Health

Combating Computer Vision Problems

By Barbara K. Crutchfield from August 2013 Issue

The increased use of computers (this includes electronic devices such as iPads, smartphones, etc.) in the workplace has led to an increase in vision complaints. A national survey of doctors of optometry found that 14 percent of the patients they see suffer from symptoms as a result of computer work.
          
What are the most common symptoms associated with vision problems resulting from computer use and what are the treatments? 
The most common symptoms are eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, and neck or shoulder pain. Poor computer workplace ergonomics and a highly demanding visual task can contribute to the development of visual symptoms and complaints. The use of computers is also associated with a decreased frequency of blinking and an increased rate of tear evaporation, each of which contributes to dry eyes.

Treatments might include a task-specific correction of your contact or glasses prescription. Traditional bifocals and progressive lenses require viewing through the lower portion of the spectacle lens, which might make it necessary to tilt your head back to use that portion for viewing. A pair of glasses prescribed solely for computer use allows good vision without tilting the head back. Changes in workplace setup and occasional rest or alternate task breaks can also help. The use of lubricating drops (not red-eye reducers), which are also called artificial tears, can provide relief from dry eye symptoms in most cases.

What happens to the eyes during prolonged computer use and can it lead to permanent damage?
Fortunately, based on current evidence, it is unlikely that the use of computers causes permanent changes or damage to the eyes. According to the American Optometric Association, like most electrical appliances, computers emit both ionizing and nonionizing radiation. However, computer emissions are often so low that they are undetectable or significantly below recommended safety levels.

What can you do to avoid problems?
Make sure your prescription for glasses or contacts is up to date. Take frequent breaks from looking at your computer to help with eye fatigue and dry eye. Proper lighting and workstation design are also important. For more preventive steps, click www.aoa.org/x5253.xml.


BARBARA K. CRUTCHFIELD is assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Kentucky.