Fact or Myth? Will staring at a computer all day damage your vision?

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The short answer is that no, looking at computers does not in general cause any permanent eye damage. There is however increasing solid evidence that prolonged periods of close work whether reading or computer based can contribute to myopia or short-sightedness progressing at a more rapid rate.

Anyone who uses a computer for prolonged periods — whether on the job, at school or at home for enjoyment — is at risk for headaches, burning eyes, a stiff neck and other symptoms that comprise computer vision syndrome (CVS). If you wear bifocals or trifocals, you should be able to comfortably view your computer screen without tilting your head back. If this is not the case, consider purchasing computer glasses. With so many of us using computers at work, computer eye strain has become a major job-related complaint. Studies show that eye strain and other bothersome visual symptoms occur in 50 to 90 percent of computer workers. These problems can cause physical fatigue, decreased productivity and increased numbers of work errors.

Blinking is very important when working at a computer; it rewets your eyes to prevent dryness and irritation. When working at a computer, people blink less frequently — about five times less than normal, according to studies. Tears coating the eye evaporate more rapidly during long non-blinking phases and this can cause dry eyes. Also, the air in many office environments is dry, which can increase how quickly your tears evaporate, placing you at greater risk for dry eye problems. If you experience dry eye symptoms, ask one of our optometrists about artificial tears for use during the day. By the way, don’t confuse lubricating drops with the drops that only “get the red out.” The latter can indeed make your eyes look better — they contain ingredients that reduce the size of the blood vessels on the surface of your eyes to “whiten” them. But they are not necessarily formulated to reduce dryness and irritation. To reduce your risk of dry eyes during computer use, try this exercise: Every 20 minutes, blink 10 times by closing your eyes as if falling asleep (very slowly). This will help rewet your eyes.

Another cause of computer eye strain is focusing fatigue. To reduce your risk of tiring your eyes by constantly focusing on your screen, look away from your computer at least every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object for at least 20 seconds. Looking far away relaxes the focusing muscle inside the eye to reduce fatigue. To ease eye strain, make sure you use good lighting and sit at a proper distance from the computer screen. This exercise reduces the risk of your eyes’ focusing ability to “lock up” (a condition called accommodative spasm) after prolonged computer work.

To reduce your risk for computer vision syndrome and neck, back and shoulder pain, take frequent breaks during your computer work day. During your computer breaks, stand up, move about and stretch your arms, legs, back, neck and shoulders to reduce tension and muscle fatigue.

If you need to look back and forth between a printed page and your computer screen, this can cause eye strain. Place written pages on a copy stand adjacent to the monitor. Light the copy stand properly. You may want to use a desk lamp, but make sure it doesn’t shine into your eyes or onto the computer screen. Improper posture during computer work also contributes to computer vision syndrome. Adjust your workstation and chair to the correct height. Purchase ergonomic furniture to enable you to position your computer screen 20 to 24 inches from your eyes. The center of your screen should be about 10 to 15 degrees below your eyes for comfortable positioning of your head and neck.

For the greatest comfort at your computer, you may benefit from having us modify your prescription to create customized computer glasses. This is especially true if you normally wear contact lenses, which may become dry and uncomfortable during sustained computer work. Computer glasses also are a good choice if you wear bifocals or progressive lenses, because these lenses generally are not optimal for the distance to your computer screen.

Want more facts like this? Interested in optometry?
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