Computer Vision Syndrome

Computer vision syndrome is not an actual disease but is a term being used by groups like the American Optometric Association to describe some of the eye and vision problems that are associated with use of electronic devices. One of the hallmarks of life in the 21st century is being surrounded by and dependent upon technology. It’s rare to find someone that doesn’t have a cell phone, tablet or a computer. People are on devices for many hours a day for jobs, at schools and for entertainment. While technology is a blessing when used wisely, it is wreaking havoc on our eyes.

Common symptoms related to computer vision syndrome are blurred vision, dry and painful eyes, headaches, tired feeling in the eyes, pain in the neck, shoulder, and back and poor sleep. Patients often disregard these symptoms as normal for them and fail to mention them during their eye exam. Patients are quite surprised when shown how some of these long-suffered symptoms are related to their eyes and can be alleviated. Here are a few of the more common issues related to computer vision syndrome:

Near Vision Strain Our eyes are primarily designed to function looking at things far away from us. In order to see things up close (like when we look at a phone or computer), our eyes have to exert effort to see them clearly. While there are many factors that contribute to how well or how long we can hold our eyes in the near vision position, most people, regardless of age or vision status, can’t hold that position forever. Overuse of our near vision can create symptoms of headaches, tired feeling in the eyes, difficulty transitioning from near vision to distance vision and blurry vision from either far away or up close. These symptoms are found in middle age as well as college and high school students and even some elementary school age kids. Using proper glasses prescription and also correct lens type (i.e. anti-fatigue lens, bifocals, progressive lens, computer progressive) is crucial. Failure to select the ideal lens type, even with the right prescription, can cause neck, shoulder and back pain as well as poor posture while at the computer.

Dry Eyes When we use any type of computer screen, our blinking becomes severely compromised, causing us not to blink as often or completely enough. This not only makes our eyes drier and more uncomfortable in the short-term, but it also causes some long-term consequences as well. Our eyelids contain anywhere from 20-30 very tiny glands that are responsible for producing the oily layer of natural tear film that keeps our eye healthy and lubricated. These glands can only secrete their oil when we blink frequently and completely. If this is not done regularly, their secretions can become thicker and can clog the gland. Over time this can permanently destroy these glands and create a lifetime of dry eye issues. Treatment for dry eye issues may include artificial tears, warm compresses over the eyelids, eyelid massage, omega-3 supplements or prescription strength eye drops.

Blue Light Most visible light is harmless to the eye, but some of the higher energy wavelengths, such as blue light, can contribute to eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration, cause eyestrain, and affect our circadian rhythms (body clock). The sun is the most abundant source of blue light but a large portion of light emitted from electronic screens is also blue light. There is ongoing discussion in the optometric community as to whether or not screens emit enough blue light to significantly contribute to ocular disease. A growing consensus believes that it contributes to eyestrain and alters circadian rhythms enough to cause problems with sleep. Many lens companies have incorporated blue light blocking technology in their products targeted toward heavy tech users to address these concerns.

We often underestimate how much technology can affect our vision. Protect your eyes for the best hope at long-term eye health and enjoyment of electronic devices. Continue to schedule annual eye exams for optimal eye health.

BIO: Dr. Baldwin is an optometrist with Eye Surgeons Associates. His clinical interests include specialty contact lenses, ocular surface disease management, managing computer vision syndrome, pediatric eye care, and co-management of medical conditions that frequently affect vision. Dr. Baldwin speaks fluent Spanish.

The material contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider.

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