In the digital age, we spend more and more of our time each day working on a computer, whether it’s sending emails, working on documents, or even just networking on LinkedIn or Facebook. But unfortunately, while this means we can get a lot done, it also means spending a lot of time at our desks looking at screens, which our bodies were not designed to do. So it’s no wonder that some people are experiencing negative effects on their overall health.
Throughout history, humans never spent much time sitting still. Our lives kept us on the move, whether we were hunting for game, looking for food in the earth, or even more recently, farming and performing physical labor.
But in the last 100 years or so, all that has changed. Many of us are now at our desks eight or more hours per day and this sedentary lifestyle, along with excessive screen time, is taking a toll on our bodies.
One of the health effects that many people experience is vision trouble.
Computer Vision Syndrome: An Optometrist Weighs In
We asked optometrist Darren Postelwait of Family Vision Associates in Abilene what effects technology can have on vision. According to Dr. Postelwait, “Our bodies weren’t designed to look at light all day long. But when you’re looking at a computer, or a mobile phone or tablet that is essentially what you’re doing.”
There is even a name for some of the vision problems that too much screen time can cause: computer vision syndrome. Symptoms of computer vision syndrome include eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision and dry eyes.
Optometrists like Postelwait have observed a dramatic increase in screen-related vision problems. According to WebMD, between 50 to 90 percent of people who work at a computer have reported some kind of vision problem. In Dr. Postelwait’s practice, he estimates that over 50 percent of his patients – from kids to adults - are experiencing symptoms related to computer vision syndrome.
Computer vision syndrome occurs for several reasons. One of the most important is proximity: the human eye is better adapted for long range viewing than it is for short range focus, but most screens are used in close proximity. Our near vision focusing muscles become weakened over time by too much up-close computer work.
Another reason screen time is damaging to the eye is simply the amount of time spent on a single activity. Consider that eye movements are controlled by tiny muscles in the eye. Screen time asks these muscles to spend a lot of time on a single, detailed activity. This strains the muscles, just as any muscle would become strained by too much repetitive movement.
Preventing Computer Vision Syndrome
Dr. Postelwait’s advice to prevent screen time from impacting your vision?
- Proper monitor adjustment: Postelwait recommends placing your monitor slightly below the level of your eyes so your eyelids can be lowered, reducing the possibility of dry eye and eye strain. Proper computer height is critical from an ergonomic standpoint; proper posture protects your neck, shoulders and back.
- Get exercise during the day: Take frequent, short breaks from working at your computer, preferably by moving around outside.
- Look away: Be sure to look away from your screen at least every 20 minutes for at least 20 seconds to give your eye muscles a chance to rest. Think of this as the ‘rule of 20/20’.
- Keep bedrooms a screen-free zone: Using screens before bed can have a detrimental effect on your eyesight; it also interferes with your sleep cycle. Keeping screens out of the bedroom is a good way to minimize these effects.
- Get your eyes checked: Make sure you have the proper prescription and vision device, such as glasses or contact lenses to ensure clear, comfortable vision at the computer. Some individuals, especially those who are on the computer all day long, may benefit from occupational eyewear. This is especially important for people over 45 years of age.
Lastly, computer users tend not to blink as often as they should. A normal human blinks approximately 3,000 times each day. Extended computer use results in less blinking, which leads to drier eyes and contributes to eye strain and computer vision syndrome (CVS).
Computers and mobile devices have become an important tool for getting work done and staying in touch with the people we care about. But it’s important to remember that just as with any activity, too much of a good thing can still be too much. Keep in mind the health effects that too much screen time can cause, and take care to prevent these common vision and health problems.
Have you ever experienced vision problems or other discomfort from working at a computer? Let us know about it by sending a comment in the form below.