Computers have not only revolutionized the way we work, but also redefined the way we live. As a practitioner of ophthalmology, my days are mostly spent analyzing and rectifying the vision ailments of my patients. Apart from refractive errors, one of the most common issues that I have been witnessing in the last decade is Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).
CVS is a group of eye and vision related problems that results from prolonged, uninterrupted use of computers or other display units such as smart phones, tablets and e-Readers. Apart from medication, preventive care is also critical.
Recently, Anandh (name changed), a 35-year-old software professional from Chennai, consulted us complaining of blurred vision and gritty sensation in the eye. After a checkup we found that both his eyes were normal, with good vision. However, tests such as tear breakup time, Schimer’s, and tears meniscus height showed he had dry eyes. On a typical day, he would work eight to 10 hours; then he would use his laptop or smart phone for long. He was diagnosed with CVS. We administered a combination of drops and anti-glare glasses. Though his condition is cured, we advised him to incorporate a preventive care system in his routine.
Computers or laptops have become indispensable. Most of us spend more than 10 hours a day on digital gadgets. Though they make our life easier, long hours in front of computers have serious health consequences ranging from musculo skeletal to neural to vision related ailments like CVS or digital eye strain.
Why this is relevant
Most offices and households these days have a computer. Almost everyone owns a smartphone. Studies have shown that those working for more than three hours on a computer have a 90 percent chance of developing some of the symptoms of CVS. It can affect anyone irrespective of their age.
A combination of several factors causes CVS. The human eye is suited for distance sight. Hence, the eye has to make an effort to bring nearby objects into focus, known as ‘accommodation,’ where inner eye muscles contract and the eyes converge. With the introduction of computers, while we can perform a multitude of tasks without glancing away from the screen, continuous activity coupled with reduced working distance and limited eye movements are putting a strain on the eye, leading to CVS.
Moreover, computer visuals are made up of pixels that do not give a clear high-contrast image, even on high-resolution screens. So our eyes are forced to focus and re-focus, continuously straining them. Further, generally our eyes blink a lot. In fact, the tear film is replenished every time we blink. The normal blinking rate is about one to two dozen times a minute. Spending hours together at the computer significantly reduces the blinking rate.
Unlike reading books where we look down and thereby cover the surface area, working on a computer calls for looking straight and exposing more surface area of the eye to the environment. The greater exposure causes evaporation of the tear film. It also makes computer users more prone to dryness of the eye.
Some common symptoms of CVS are eye fatigue, eye strain, headaches, tearing, itching, burning of eyes and blurry vision.
» Regular eye checkups: Getting our eyes checked regularly is crucial. Uncorrected vision problems or wearing the wrong spectacle can increase the severity of CVS.
» Working environment and ergonomics: Air from AC, inappropriately placed fan or a ventilation vent can dry the eye out faster. Hence, avoid direct airflow to the face.
» Place the source of light in such a way that it doesn’t throw light on the eyes or the screen and thereby reduces glare and reflections. Also, minimize interior lighting by using fewer light bulbs or fluorescent tubes, or use lower-intensity bulbs and tubes.
» Use high resolution screens and a good quality anti-glare shield on the screen.
» Use ergonomic furniture and sit straight. Maintain a good working distance—28 inches—from eye to screen. Position the screen 4 to 9 inches below eye level, and tilt up, so that viewing angle is 10 to 15 degrees below straight-ahead gaze position. It can help reduce neck strain and back and shoulder pain as well.
» Take adequate work breaks to relax the accommodative system of the eye.
» Blink: The easiest yet effective remedy is blinking. It is essential to remind oneself to blink more frequently, and this goes a long way in providing relief.
(The author works at Dr. Agarwal’s Eye Hospital, Cathedral Road, Chennai)
(In arrangement with SMARTlife)