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Computer Eyestrain Syndrome

by Barry Auchettl M.Ed. B.Bus.

Visual problems occur for people working with computers. Some symptoms related to work and computers include headaches, sore eyes and blurred vision. For industry, this leads to a loss in productivity as a result of lower concentration levels and potential insurance claims caused by eyesight problems.

Almost every worker now comes into contact with computers with the approach of the new technological millennium. Ten years ago, Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) was the main concern with computers, particularly amongst office staff. Today, Computer Eyestrain Syndrome (CES) is fast becoming the dominant factor at home and at work.

Headaches or eyestrain can occur if computers are improperly arranged, from poor lighting the work space area and insufficient break time is given for the eyes during a long task that tries to be completed in one go. They also occur if an incorrect prescription is used for close up work. A person working on the computer wearing glasses designed for long distance may experience greater fatigue.

A variety of measures can be taken in order to reduce the effect of CES. First of all, computers should be set up to provide maximum comfort and minimise visual stress. This would include an adjustable chair and a swivel stand for the monitor in order for the screen to be adjusted to the most suitable angle. The standard of monitors has also increased dramatically in recent years with various screens to reduce glare and the electromagnetic fields generated by computers. Yet too many people still persist with an old monitor as they upgrade the other components of their computer. Decreasing the effect of CES should be just as important as upgrading the memory or disk space.

Not all people look at the monitor in the same way. The amount of visual stress caused by watching the monitor will vary according to the task required to be completed. Word processing is more likely to create CES as it requires more text entries than other software packages such as spreadsheets and databases. Those most affected are people entering data throughout most of the day. Programmers would normally require the least amount of time at the screen, yet often are affected by “binging” at the computer.

The Internet has also led to many people staring at a screen both at home and at work. The amount of time spent viewing the screen and other source documents will have an impact on CES. Yet it is here that measures can be easily taken to help compensate the effects of eyestrain. Looking away to rest the eyes should always be done when waiting for the next URL to be downloaded. Something as simple as this would not only improve eyestrain but will lead to increased concentration when looking at the next site.

It is important not to learn to stare at the screen, as this is the major cause of CES. Blinking every three to five seconds helps to avoid redness, itching of the eyes and decreases the chance of headaches. It also helps breaks the habit of staring and over-concentration. Another simple method is to stop and take a few deep breaths every ten minutes which can help relax the shoulders and take the pressure off the eyes.

There are numerous exercises that can be undertaken in order to reduce the amount of stress on the eyes. The easiest and most well known exercise is palming. Palming involves cupping your hands and placing them over your closed eyes without actually touching the eyes. Take a minute to simply breathe and relax. Notice whether you see black or colours in your mind. For some people, their hands may feel extremely warm or tingly. The act of palming not only relaxes the physical eye but also energises the entire body.

Increased dependence on computer based work is creating increased absenteeism and potential insurance claims caused by eye health problems. These occupational, health and safety concerns are currently being addressed by business. The Computer And Vision Enhancement (CAVE) Program offers an unique investment in the maintenance of eye health by incorporating simple exercises and awareness. It is based on an educational model rather than a medical one.

In the future, RSI may be reduced with the advent of voice activated commands reducing the need using a keyboard. However, as long as people remain focused on the screen, there will be a continual rise and concern regarding the eye health of anyone using a computer. With over 50% of the adult population now wearing some sort of corrective lenses, that figure could increase considerably if steps are not taken to reduce CES at home and at work.

Barry Auchettl is a computer instructor and vision educator that runs group workshops and business seminars. He has personally overcome his need for glasses and developed the Renewed Vision seminars to help eliminate the potential threat caused by what he describes as Computer Eyesight Syndrome. He has completed a Masters in Education on the effects computers have on vision.