Computer Vision Syndrome

This week’s blog on ‘Computer Vision Syndrome’ has been contributed by Dr. Sandra Fiorentini, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Specialist in Cornea, External Eye Diseases and Refractive Surgery Specialist (Vision Correction Surgery)

Computer vision syndrome is a combination of both eye and vision problems related to the activities which are experienced due to the use of electronic screens such as computers, smartphones or any other digital devices.

The main symptoms are eye strain, irritation, burning sensation, tiredness, tearing, redness, blurred vision, headache, slowness of focus change and double vision. These symptoms are usually temporary and disappear at the end of the working day. A minority of people may experience continuity of symptoms and if no intervention is initiated, symptoms will recur and also worsen in the future. However, they won’t cause permanent eye damage.

The symptoms experienced in computer vision syndrome are caused by two main potential mechanisms:  accommodative mechanism and ocular surface mechanism.

Accommodative mechanism is a natural way the eye works to focus and sharpen images regardless of their distance from the eye. This mechanism can be affected in computer vision syndrome causing blurring of vision, double vision, slowness of focus change and even myopia. In one study it was reported that a temporary shortsightedness was observed in 20% of computer users at the end of their work shift.

Ocular surface is the outer part of the eye in contact with the environment and this also can change causing symptoms such as dryness of the eyes, redness, gritty sensation and burning after extended period of computer usage.

Normally, humans blink about 15 times a minute, but studies show we blink half to a third that often while using computers and other digital screen devices, whether for work or leisure.

Despite the symptoms of dryness and redness present multifactorial causes, the reduction in blink rate in these situations increasing the surface of cornea exposure also caused by horizontal gaze at the computer screen, can be a trigger to imbalance the corneal surface’s health.

Many people are worried that the computer screen, like some electrical appliances emits radiation or that the blue light could damage the eyes. Numerous published studies have shown no evidence to support any direct link between the radiation levels emitted and the worker’s health problems. Similarly, there is no evidence that blue light can be harmful for the eyes, however, it interferes in the wake-sleep cycle especially if you expose the eyes to the screen light just before bed time.

Eye Ergonomics Tips to prevent computer vision syndrome

  • Sit about 25 inches, or arm’s length, from the computer screen. Position the screen so your eye gaze is slightly downward.
  • Many devices now have glass screens with considerable glare. Reduce glare by using a matte screen filter if needed.
  • Take regular breaks using the “20-20-20” rule: every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use artificial tears to refresh your eyes when they feel dry. Consider using a room humidifier.
  • If a screen is much brighter than the surrounding light, your eyes have to work harder to see. Adjust your room lighting and try increasing the contrast on your screen to reduce eye strain.

Computer vision syndrome is a new problem that has emerged in this century following increased usage of electronic screens. Prevention remains the main strategy in managing of computer vision syndrome through the modification in the ergonomics of the working environment, patient education and proper eye care as important strategies.

If your eyes are consistently red, blurry or watery, or they become sensitive to light or painful, you should consult your ophthalmologist as soon as possible.

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