iPad + iPod + iPhone = iStrain

by Dr. Timothy Cundiff
Vision Care Center PC

Our eyes are more stressed out than ever before.

As you read this article, whether you’re holding a physical copy of the magazine or reading it online, prepare to be stressed out. I don’t mean you’re going to pull your hair out. I’m not talking about emotional stress, but rather, visual stress, which comes from focusing on any target held at a location near your eyes. The near-point distance is roughly 25 inches (or less) from the target to your eyes.

You’re probably saying, “I’m completely stress-free. My 2013 resolution was to eliminate stress in my life. This guy can’t stress me out!” Let me demonstrate with a test. Hold your thumb three inches in front of your face, focus intently on it and count slowly to ten. Then turn your head and look at something 20+ feet away. Feel any difference? Whenever we look at a distant target, our eyes are completely relaxed (as long as we are wearing appropriate spectacle prescription). However, when we look at a closer target, our eyes become visually stressed. This target can literally be anything: your thumb, a laptop screen, an iPad or a biography of John Mellencamp. As much as you may have tried to avoid it, I just stressed you out!

Technology is a good thing, no doubt. I’m not telling you to get rid of your iPad or stop reading your Kindle. But I am bringing attention to the fact that no matter what we do these days, we can’t avoid looking at something fairly close to our eyes. This is stressing out our eyes more than ever before. While some people are naturally built to tolerate the stress, others may be suffering daily from computer vision syndrome (CVS). Raise your hand if you spend three or more hours of the day at a computer (of any kind). If you’re a human living in 2013, then I’m guessing your hand is raised. You might agree that we can’t avoid the strain that comes from the daily use of technology.

An Unwanted Workout
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, CVS affects 90 percent of people who spend three or more hours daily at the computer. The symptoms associated with CVS include headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, neck pain, fatigue, double vision and eyestrain. Do any of those sound familiar? Do you ever feel physically exhausted at the end of a long day at the computer? How can we possibly feel physically tired from sitting at a desk all day? It’s your eyes. If you are one of the folks who aren’t built to handle the stress, you may be giving your eyes more of a workout than they need.

That workout can really take a toll, and it’s not just our day at the office that causes the strain. Indeed, we never give our eyes a break. At home, we do other things for fun that contribute to eyestrain. Whether you’re on Facebook, reading today’s news or looking at baby kitten photos, it makes no difference. Just because it’s “fun” and not “work” doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause the same amount of strain on your eyes. If your monitor, tablet or phone is close to your face, your eyestrain continues. And any near target can pose this strain: solving a Sudoku puzzle, knitting a sweater, painting a picture or reading a book (whether paperback or electronic).

All of this visual stress adds up, and CVS affects all ages. I never tell kids to stop reading, but I do tell them to take a break from the constant texting, and pause the video games more often. Picture your third-grade son or daughter. Studies show that more than 80 percent of a student’s day is spent focusing on targets up close. Ask your kids about these symptoms, and encourage them to take breaks from the constant technology overload.

Some Common Relief
What can you do about CVS? Start by looking at the ergonomics of your workplace. Make sure the lighting is positioned appropriately to avoid glare and reflections from your monitor. Your monitor should be below eye level by about 20 degrees. It is physically more comfortable to look at a downward angle toward your screen rather than lifting your chin to see a monitor mounted on the wall.

Dry eyes are a nuisance and common symptom linked with CVS. Here are three tips that will make an immediate impact on your eyes.

  1. Over-the-counter artificial tears are recommended at least three times per day. Rather than using Visine, I recommend Refresh Optive or Systane.
  2. 20/20/20 rule. For every 20 minutes at the computer, you should pause and take a 20-second break by looking at a target that’s 20 feet away.
  3. Remember to blink! Our eyes need moisture, and natural moisture comes from blinking. Our blink rate decreases significantly when staring at the computer all day, causing our eyes to lose out on that natural comfort. Put a Post-It note that reads “BLINK” by your monitor. This will provide a subtle, subconscious reminder to lubricate your eyes. Try blinking 10 times right now; you can actually feel the moisture!

Remember to have your eyes examined regularly. Even minor prescriptions may be warranted to relieve the intense rigors of your work. Specific computer prescriptions, anti-reflective lenses and bifocals (if necessary) are all common ways to help relieve your visual stress. We often learn to live with our problems and may not even realize there’s a simple answer to help.

In conclusion, don’t quit your job, and don’t throw away your iPad. Simply understand what our technological world is demanding of us and try to find some relief from this stress. There are logical ways to help, and if problems persist, get your eyes checked. It’s possible to have 20/20 eyesight but still have uncomfortable eyes. My goal as an optometrist is for my patients to have as comfortable eyes as possible. Don’t think of computer glasses as a burden, but rather “fuzzy slippers” for your eyes. iBi

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