Whether you’ve got an office job or not, chances are you spend several hours a day staring at digital screens. Modern LED televisions, tablets and even mobile phones and Kindles can all lead to computer vision syndrome or digital eye strain.
But the problem is complex and not limited to eye strain alone. Other symptoms, including dry eyes, headaches and back and neck problems all contribute to this debilitating condition. Find out how you can reduce your symptoms.
If you regularly experience any of the following symptoms, you may be suffering from digital eye strain:
- Tired, achy eyes
- Fluctuating or blurred vision
- Dry, gritty eyes
- Neck or shoulder pain
These symptoms can follow you home from work, and prevent you from enjoying the things you enjoy, such as watching movies (dry eyes) or engaging in sports (back pain). But these symptoms can be greatly improved by taking some preventative measures and seeking treatment as soon as symptoms appear.
What causes it?
Computer Vision Syndrome is a complex condition with several factors contributing to symptoms:
- Staring at anything, including a book, leads to a reduction in your blink rate. So prolonged use of digital screens will often lead to dry eyes.
- Office environments often have harsh lighting, which can contribute to screen glare.
- Desks and chairs are often lacking when it comes to ergonomic design. The feet should be placed squarely on the ground, with knee and elbow bends at right angles. A common problem is the too-high desk / too-low chair or a combination, leading to hunched shoulders in order to use the keyboard.
- Uncorrected visual problems can also lead to eye strain. Small spectacle prescriptions that may not be necessary for everyday life can make a big difference when the eyes are under pressure. One of the first things to do it you are suffering from eye strain is to have a comprehensive check-up with your optometrist to look for astigmatism, long-sightedness or presbyopia (reading vision problems due to an aging lens) or a muscle imbalance between the two eyes. Task glasses can be very effective at reducing eye strain and can be combined with a blue blocker filter (see below).
- Computer-emitted blue light can also be a factor. Modern computer screens emit light in a different pattern to older-technology screens. There is far more light emitted from the blue-violet end of the spectrum (close to UV light). This light can penetrate to the retina at the back of the eye. Blue-blocker lenses provide a barrier to blue light and can be added to glasses either with or without a prescription.
The ocular symptoms of this condition can sometimes be the least of your worries. Tech-neck, the colloquial name given to computer-related neck and upper back problems used only apply to IT workers or researchers who spend long hours in front of digital screens. But in today’s age of mobile devices, e-readers and Netflix, we are seeing an epidemic of neck and back problems across all careers.
One of the best things to do to prevent neck and back problems is to ensure your computer is properly set up. Laptop screens are too low for prolonged desk work and ideally should be raised to eye level (use a stack of books if necessary) and a separate keyboard used at the lower level that allows relaxed shoulders and right-angle elbow bends.
What can I do about my other symptoms?
Computer-related dry eyes can be managed with improved blinking as well as the use of preservative-free artificial tears.
One of the simplest and best ways to reduce digital eye strain and related symptoms is to follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, stand up, look at something in the distance for 20 seconds and blink 20 times. This little exercise works on a number of levels;
- it gives your eyes a break from close focus
- it greatly increases your blink rate and distributes your tears over your ocular surface
- it relieves muscle strain from hunched shoulders, poor posture etc.