Digital Disorder

Prolonged usage of the computer, tablet or cell phone can lead to Computer Vision Syndrome, an eye health issue that could affect anyone spending over three hours per day on the computer

Symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome
Symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome

We can’t imagine life without computers. With its increasing invasion into every sphere of our lives and its shrinking size, the after-effects are also elements that we have to live with now. A couple of decades back, we were advised by health pundits to take a break every two hours, sit back in the chair and do a few head, neck and eye exercises that would relieve the strain of continuous computer viewing. But now, times have changed. And how! A break from the computer would have us peering into our phones, checking mails, responding to jokes, sending smileys to friends and family. In short, the eyes don’t get rest at all. From desktops and laptops, the eyes just shift to a smaller canvas like tablets and mobiles, till it is time again to get back to the big screen.

Naturally, there would be payoffs. There is, by the name of Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)—an issue of vision that is a direct spin-off from lengthy and non-stop hours of computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone usage. Also referred to as Digital Eye Strain, it is essentially the discomfort and vision-related issues that the patients experience with prolonged digital device usage.

The most common problems that occur due to CVS are headaches, aching and burning eyes, blurred vision and pain in the neck and shoulder. Though continuous usage of a light-reflecting gadget is the root cause, what aggravates it further is when the other factors are also not taken care of, like poor lighting, glare on a digital screen, unattended existing vision problems, poor posture and peering into the computer from close quarters.

Often, a latent undetected vision problem can make the letters on the screen appear shaky and unclear. The users then modify the back-screen light to make reading easier, not realising that this would be directly affecting their eye health. Sometimes, users lean forward and peer into the computer trying to read the written content better. They also slouch back in their chair, thus increasing the distance between the eyes and the computer screen and thereby straining the eyes. Incidentally, even those wearing contact lenses may be affected by CVS.

However, most of the problems arising out of CVS are temporary and can be taken care of. Also, reduction of time spent on digital gadgets automatically ensures quick recovery. Unfortunately, the reverse is equally true. If the issues are not addressed, there is a strong likelihood of the situation worsening.

Diagnosis Of CVS

The computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level (about 4 or 5 inches) as measured from the centre of the screen and 20 to 28 inches from the eyes

There is a comprehensive testing system through which Computer Vision Syndrome can be diagnosed. Firstly, patient history is recorded. Previous ailments, especially eye related, are noted. Again, if there are factors that are contributing to the straining of the eyes, they are taken into consideration. These may include poor lighting, environmental irritations, etc. The next step in the diagnosis process is visual acuity measurements to check the extent to which the vision has been affected. Then, a refraction is advised to determine the appropriate lens power needed to compensate for any refractive errors–nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism. Finally, a test is conducted to see how the eyes focus, move and work together. This test primarily checks if there is anything that is keeping the eyes from focusing, moving and working in unison.

With information gleaned from the tests, the eye professional can then suggest a line of treatment.

Treatment Of CVS

Since most eye issues that are a spin-off of CVS are reversible, CVS is not taken as an eye-endangering ailment. Still, prolonged neglect can and will have far-reaching consequences. Therefore, it makes more sense to recognise the symptoms and treat the ailment.

If the patient is already a prescription glass user or a contact lens user, he or she may require special lenses that help in the viewing of the computer. These special lenses could include special lens designs, lens powers, lens tints or coating, all designed to maximise visual abilities.

Sometimes, a computer user has problems focusing or with eye-coordination. This can’t be corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses. A vision therapy program may be needed to treat these specific problems. Vision therapy is a structured program of visual activities prescribed to improve visual abilities. It helps and trains the eyes and brain to work together more effectively. Primarily these are eye exercises that work in treating deficiencies in eye movement, eye focusing and eye teaming.

Then, there are certain ground rules for working on the computer. Let’s discuss these:

  1. Correct placement of the computer: People generally find it easier to ‘look down’ on a computer. And eye professionals say, that’s the best way. The computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level (about 4 or 5 inches) as measured from the centre of the screen and 20 to 28 inches from the eyes.
  2. Ready reckoner reference materials: Ideally reference materials should be kept above the keyboard and below the monitor. The idea is that they should be placed in such a way that your head doesn’t have to move back and forth while reading and then working on the computer. It should be a seamless, effortless flow from print to computer for the eyes.
  3. Lighting has to be right: There can’t be too much of light or too less. The computer should be placed in such a way that there is no harsh light. Neither from overhead lights nor from huge yawning windows. If the sunlight is flooding in, use curtains to cut out the harsh light. If the bulbs in the room are overtly powerful, replace them with lights of lower wattage.
  4. Guard the computer screen: Often, the computer screen emits a glare that is hugely disturbing. The easiest solution is to attach an anti-glare screen.
  5. Guard the seat too: If you are sitting for long hours at the computer, it is really important that you are comfortable. If the seat is hard or lumpy, you will be constantly shifting to make yourself comfortable. In the process, the eyes too will constantly shift and try to focus on the screen. This is definitely not the best exercise for the eyes. Also, it’s important to rest your feet on a little low stool that can go under the computer table at its farthest end. This way you can stretch your legs and keep your feet at a relaxed, comfortable height.
  6. Two must-do eye exercises: These two exercises are vital and great eye-stress relievers. Both are simple, but need to be done diligently. For every 20 minutes of computer viewing, look into the distance for 20 seconds. This gives your eyes a chance to refocus. Also, as there is a danger of ‘dry eyes’ because of concentrated viewing into the computer, it is important to use that 20 seconds break time to rapidly blink your eyes several times. This keeps the surface of the eye moist. So it’s 20-20-20. Every 20 minutes, blink 20 times and spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away.
Monitor the amount of time spent on the computer and take necessary steps to avert CVS

Nail IT

If the computer can cause eye strain, it can also offer solutions. There are several softwares that can be utilised for eye-strain relievers. Here, we list out a few.

CIP – Computer Injury Prevention Program: This is a character that keeps popping up on the computer screen every hour to remind you to take a break. It also takes the user through a series of simple exercises that not just reduce eye strain, but also targets and offers effective injury prevention exercises for hands, shoulders, wrists and legs.

CtrlWORK – Efficiency Software: This is a smart one. It helps the user to perform his computer tasks faster, better and with lesser effort, thus reducing time on the computer as well. It’s a great contributor towards improvement of physical and mental health.

EyeLeo: This is a special software for your eyes only. Not only does it give you reminders, it also parents you and prevents you from using the computer at break times. Finally, it also has a range of eye exercises.

Healthy Hints: This is another parenting software that detects the amount of time spent on the computer, tells you when to take a break and even gives you a rating on your good behaviour! For correct computer breaks you could be lucky and get a five star rating! As a bonus, it gives you suggestions on lighting, seating, etc.

Summing It Up

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, USA, Computer Eye Syndrome affects nearly 90 per cent of people who spend more than three hours a day on the computer. ‘Dry Eye’ is its single largest fall-out with other eye health issues that may be temporary, but hugely uncomfortable while they last. So the best way out is to be on a vigil; monitor the amount of time spent on the computer and take necessary steps to avert CVS.


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