iStrain: Rise of Latent Computer Vision Syndrome

by SALLY SOOHYUN KIM

Time flies when surfing through the web, texting with friends, or watching television. Ever looked at the clock and wondered how an hour had already past when it felt like only five minutes have gone by? It is no question that people spend a significant amount of time using technology, especially digital media. What constitutes digital media? Digital media are forms of electronic content that can be transmitted through television, the internet, or computer based networks. High-definition televisions, desktop and laptop computers, smartphones, e-readers, tablets and gaming systems are among the most popular digital media devices used today.

In college, the use of these items is inescapable since students use them not only for school-related work but also for leisure and for a way to keep in touch with friends and family. As seen in a 2012 survey conducted by The Vision Council, more than a third of U.S. adults reported spending four to six hours a day with digital media or related electronic devices. About 14% of those surveyed, young adults (ages 18 to 34) reported an average use of more than 12 hours daily. All that time spent staring at various digital screens puts a real strain on one’s eyes, which can cause vision problems as well as other medical conditions such as dry eyes and headaches. Such uncomfortable and debilitating problems are not necessarily inevitable, as it is easy to prevent them from happening.

 

What exactly is “Computer Vision Syndrome?”

According to a 2005 review published in Survey of Ophthalmology on Computer Vision Syndrome, the most common ocular complaints due to use of digital devices include eye strain, eye fatigue, burning sensations, irritation, redness, blurred vision, and dry eyes. You may also experience an aching sensation in your head, neck, or shoulders. These symptoms are collectively known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). The American Optometric Association defines CVS, also known as digital eye strain, as the combination of eye and vision problems associated with the use of computers. However, the causes of this syndrome is not limited to computer use. Using other kinds of digital media can also cause the various symptoms of CVS.

 

Who’s at risk for CVS?

The Vision Council states that more than 70% of Americans do not know or do not believe that they are susceptible to digital eye strain. However, anyone who is in front of a digital screen is at risk. In a society where smartphones and computers are needed to complete a student's or worker's tasks, it is hard to escape from these useful and ubiquitous inventions. It is no wonder then, that CVS is very common. According to a 2011 review published in Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics: The Journal of the British College of Optometrists, between 64% and 90% of computer users experience uncomfortable visual symptoms listed under CVS. But there is no need to scurry back to papers and pens. Currently, there is no evidence that CVS causes any permanent damage to our eyes.

 

Tips for Avoiding CVS

Although the symptoms of CVS are not severe or irreversible, they are uncomfortable and can influence work and study performance requiring computers and other digital media. The good news is that it is easy to alleviate or even prevent CVS. The simple solution is to limit the use of digital media, but that may be impractical for both students and adults. Fear not, there are multiple quick and easy ways to lessen the impact of digital media on one's eyes.

1. Get Comfortable

Place yourself at a comfortable distance so that you do not need to lean forward or strain your eyes to focus to see text. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, under the United States Department of Labor, states that generally, the preferred viewing distance is between 20 and 40 inches from the eye to the front of the computer screen. A simple rule of thumb: the distance from your eyes to any portable or small digital media, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops, should be at arm’s length.

2. Try using the 20-20-20 rule

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that for every 20 minutes of near work, take a 20 second break and look at something at least 20 feet away.

3. Reduce Glare

Adjust the brightness of your screen to a comfortable level by adjusting its settings. Changing the background color from bright white to a cooler gray may help reduce glare and associated eye strain.

4. Personalize it

Change it up and Zoom in! Adjust the font size for the best view while writing a long paper or reading digitally by changing the viewing percentage. Remember that you can zoom in on your smartphones and tablets. This will decrease the need for squinting or looking too closely at hand-held devices during prolonged use.

In addition, researchers from the Vision Ergonomics Research Laboratory in the United States reveal that the Verdana font is the safest for the eyes, in that it provides viewers to read more comfortably and prevents the need to lean forward and strain one’s eyes. According to a  2011 study published in The American Journal of Medical Sciences, tested subjects ranked Verdana, in 14 size font, as the best font type and size combination in comparison to other common fonts (Times New Roman, Georgia, Courier New, Arial, and Tahoma). It is important to note that it really comes down to personal preference. The 2011 study measured subjects’ opinions by asking a series of questions that asked how the fonts affected their overall mental workload (mental demand, performance, effort, frustration). Thus, just be sure that the combination of font style and font size allows you to read easily without fixing yourself in an uncomfortable position. Play around with the different style options offered to find the best viewing for you.

5. Consider the most optimal location

Change the lighting surrounding the computer screen. Try closing the blinds or moving the device until the glare disappears. If possible, dimming the surrounding lighting can also help reduce glare and strain.

6. Blink Often!

Most individuals blink on average between ten and 15 times per minute. A 2005 study published in Survey of Ophthalmology has shown that the blink rate at the computer is significantly less than normal. People blink about five times less in front of a computer screen than they would regularly, which contributes to dry eyes. Remind yourself to blink more often, and consider the use of over-the-counter lubricating eye drops to help refresh and refocus your eyes.

7. Use a stand for your additional work material

To avoid having to constantly look back and forth between your computer screen and the printed material on your desk, try putting the printed matter on a stand next to your computer monitor or laptop. This will help lessen neck pain and the strain of having to refocus your eyes for each glance.

8. Visit your eye doctor regularly

Be sure to tell your doctor about your computer usage if you have symptoms of CVS. Doctors can determine whether you need prescription computer glasses to help increase contrast perception and filter out glare and reflection to reduce symptoms of eye strain.
 

Bottom Line

It is important to pay attention to your body’s signals. Significant eye, neck, head, or shoulder pain are significant warning signs of strain and fatigue. Try one or more of the tips listed above to help prevent CVS.  

 

Winter 2013 | Vol. 13 | Issue 3