Tackling Computer Vision Syndrome

Have you ever considered that your laptop or computer could be affecting your health? We all know that toothache means a trip to the dentist, but do we think...

Have you ever considered that your laptop or computer could be affecting your health? We all know that toothache means a trip to the dentist, but do we think about a visit to the optician when we get headaches? We should.

Many of our patients are surprised to hear that the main tool of their work and hobbies can be the cause of persistent, regular headaches, blurred vision (particularly at the end of the day), neck pain and dry eye problems.

The combination of these symptoms is increasingly being recognised as Computer Vision Syndrome. This could be considered 'RSI' of the eyes.

The fact that our eyes protest at such prolonged periods of hard work is not altogether surprising. They were not designed with the intention of sitting for hours at a time with our focus fixed at a single distance. Our eyes are used to moving focus between objects at different distances without spending too long at any of them.

The point is that the distance at which our eyes focus needs to be varied throughout the day - something that computer use does not encourage.

Just imagine using your sense of hearing in the same way and forcing yourself to listen to a monotone sound, always coming from the same direction, at the same volume. The likelihood is that you would quickly find yourself wanting to do something to change it.

So, check the following list to see if you could be susceptible to Computer Vision Syndrome:

• Prolonged focus on a fixed, near object, such as a VDU

• Reduced blink rate whilst concentrating

• Poor workstation layout

• Glare

• Uncorrected vision problems, such as latent long-sight, or poor binocular vision

• Use of incorrect glasses and spectacle lenses for computer work: something that is particularly noticeable once you hit your mid-40s, when you may need reading glasses

Tackling the problem is not difficult. First, make sure you have something to focus on in the distance away from your screen. This could be out of the window or even along the length of a long office.

Make sure your chair is supportive and comfortable and ensure your desk is at the right height for a good working posture.

Next, have regular eye tests (at least every two years), with a qualified optometrist. Ensure your glasses have an appropriate lens design for computer use, such as Rodenstock's Nexyma, with an anti-reflection coating to reduce glare.

Aim for regular rest breaks for your eyes, with 20 minutes of screen use followed by at least 20 seconds of distance focus.

Invest in some lubricating eye drops and work on regular blink exercises to make sure you get the most benefit from your blinks.

Remove as many sources of glare as possible, reduce screen brightness and make sure lighting is well balanced, with no flickering.

Provision of eye tests

Anyone using a VDU at work may well be eligible for an eye examination and contribution towards appropriate glasses, as laid down by the Health & Safety (DSE) Regulations (1992). This regulation states that the employer must provide appropriate eyesight tests and, if necessary, glasses for VDU use. So ask your local optician what you are entitled to - it might be more than you think.

David Summers is an optometrist practicing at Melina Joy Opticians in Heathfield, Sussex

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