Technological progress forces most of us to sit in front of monitors every day for long periods of time. This relatively new lifestyle affects our eyesight, which is not evolutionarily accustomed to focusing for many hours on an image emitting light, often very bright and contrasted and located very close to our eyes.
What is computer vision syndrome?
Our problems began when television sets entered our homes. However, it was the rapid and universal digitisation that began at the end of the twentieth century, resulting in many aspects of our lives requiring contact with monitors and displays, that caused cumulative problems. Statistically, people living in highly developed parts of the world spend over 3 months a year in front of such devices!
Ophthalmologists have been warning us for some time now, suspecting this new lifestyle to be behind these problems, which was confirmed in the mid-1990s, when the American Academy of Ophthalmology found a connection between short sightedness and long working hours. Due to the fact that our modern lifestyle is most often associated with long hours working in front of a computer monitor, they called it the Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), although similar ailments may also be caused by regularly reading print for long periods of time.
Computer vision syndrome symptoms
Typical symptoms of this condition include:
- general eye fatigue - slight eye pain after 3-4 hours in front of the monitor also with time causes difficulty in maintaining visual acuity, which is accompanied by a growing headache;
- dry eye syndrome - associated with different (incomplete) and less frequent than normal bl.inking when working in front of the computer, which impairs tearing (improper distribution of the moisturising and cleansing tear film), causing dryness, itching and burning of the eyes. In people with particularly sensitive eyes it may even feel as though you have a foreign body in the eye, photophobia or double vision;
- progressive refractive changes – vision deterioration, most often at short distances, resulting from the reduction or loss of ability to accommodate the eye;
- irritation and redness of the eyes;
- colour vision disorders;
- headache, neck and back pain.
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These symptoms may occur alone or in combination. Studies conducted around the world show that CVS-related ailments affect between 50% and over 90% of people looking at screens, monitors and displays for long periods of time. Discrepancies arise from methodological and desc.riptive differences in the studies conducted, but it is clear that the problem is on the rise in people over 40.
Commonly, CVS is not treated as a disease, but rather as chronic eye fatigue, which can be effectively reduced by taking proper preventive measures. This is also the case in Poland, where OHS standards classify work at a computer (more than 4 hours a day), as a burden but not harmful, allowing employees to get reimbursed for purchasing corrective computer glasses.
Although computer vision syndrome is not a disease, it should not be ignored. Exposing our eyes to significant strain for long periods of time leads to permanent defects and diseases. Studies show that symptoms of CVS can occur after 2-3 hours of looking at a monitor on a daily basis, if no preventive measures are taken.
The youngest device users are most at risk. Their eyes are still developing and are unable to cope with such strain. It leads to accelerated development of eyesight defects, problems with concentration and reading - warns Maciej Zdrodowski, Chief Ergonomics Specialist at Medicover.
Treatment and Preventive Measures for CVS
These days we can’t really avoid using screens and displays if we want to stay active in professional, cultural and social life. Fortunately, we can fight the symptoms of computer vision syndrome. Most importantly, all it takes are simple steps to protect our eyes. Just follow the below "ten commandments", which every patient should be told about.
A visit to an ophthalmologist
Rule number one. Regularly, i.e. at least once a year, have a specialist check your eyes. Tell them about the type of work you do and any related ailments or discomfort.
Rule number two. Make adjustments to the places where you use a computer so that they meet ergonomic requirements. In short: the screen should be at an arm’s length, the first line of text on the screen slightly below the line of sight, sit straight with your back comfortably supported and feet flat on the floor (see figure opposite). Try to work in rooms that are cleaned often. Also, ensure proper air humidity. It should not be lower than 50%. Use air conditioning only when it is necessary and air out the room often.
Rule number three. Light! It must help, not hinder computer use. Of course, natural light is best. It’s better if the computer desk is lit from the side - preferably on the left side (for right-handers). Avoid having the monitor face the light source as it will then reflect off the screen making your eyes tired. Also, avoid placing the monitor against a very contrasted background (e.g. a dark wall). When it comes to artificial light the rules are similar, but ensure proper intensity - too much or too little light will cause eyes to fatigue faster. Minimise reflections. Especially in the summer it is important to reduce strong external sunlight by using curtains or blinds.
Glasses with anti-reflective coating
Rule number four. Wear glasses with anti-reflective coating. They reduce reflections from the monitor, improve visual acuity and contrast, and reduce eye strain. They also protect against UV rays and electromagnetic waves. If you do not have any vision defects, you can buy non-presc.ription computer glasses. If you use contact lenses, try to choose ones with a UV filter that allow you to maintain high eye humidity.
Breaks for eyes at work
Rule number five. Take frequent breaks. According to the 20/20/20 rule - every 20 minutes stop working for at least 20 seconds and look at an object 20 feet away (around 6 metres), bl.inking intensely.
Moisturising the eyes
Rule number six. Moisturise your eyes. The easiest way to achieve this is through frequent bl.inking. We have to do it consciously, because when we work on the computer the frequency of this natural and involuntary reflex decreases. Blinking frequently helps keep the eyes moist and work better. If your eyes get dry, moisturise them using eye drops or gels prescribed by your doctor.
Rule number seven. Configure programme settings so that you can read the text comfortably. Choose the size and type of font that's optimal for you, allowing you to read the text effortlessly. Ensure there is contrast between the characters and the background. The most eyesight-friendly is the classic, contrasted style – black font on a white background.
Exercises for the eyes
Rule number eight. Exercise your eyes by moving your eyeballs, e.g. by moving them vertically (up and down), horizontally (sideways), as well as circular eye movements. A helpful exercise and a good relaxation technique for the eyes is covering them with your hands and looking into the dark space.
Rule number nine. Live and eat healthy. A well balanced diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables, will help keep your eyes healthy. The most important for the eyes are vitamins A, C and E, as well as zinc, selenium and magnesium. You can also take dietary supplements to get the appropriate amount of micro-nutrients. After work, you can make a relaxing herbal compress for the eyes using eyewort, cornflower, chamomile or ordinary black tea. Exercising daily also has a good effect on the eyes because it reduces blood pressure.
Applications for tired eyes
Rule number ten. Use the computer to help you fight CVS. There are many applications online that help you organise your computer work, prepare for long hours working at a monitor, or alert you to take breaks and exercise (e.g. EyeCareReminder).
Computer vision syndrome is a burdensome and increasingly common lifestyle ailment. Permanent eye strain leads to eye fatigue and wear, which may lead to accelerated myopia progression. Proper diagnostics, performed by a specialist doctor, and even simple preventive steps taken on our own, can reduce or eliminate the symptoms of CVS, allowing us to be able to use all technological gadgets with a monitor without fear.
Computer vision syndrome causes
Causes of CVS:
- Infrequent bl.inking - normally we bl.ink 16-20 times per minute, but when we look at a monitor this is reduced to 4-6 times;
- Wrong monitor positioning - a screen placed too close, too far, or at a wrong angle forces the user to sit in the wrong position;
- Small font - wrong font size can cause eye fatigue;
- Reflections cause a significant deterioration of the image, contributing to optical discomfort;
- Incorrect contrast and monitor brightness - this applies to the characters displayed on a bright monitor background, as well as the difference between the brightness of the monitor itself and its surroundings;
- Refresh settings - the problem concerns the classic CRT monitors: too low refreshing rates cause screen flickering, especially in the peripheral field of view (often even unnoticed by the user);
- Not taking breaks from the monitor - constant work at the computer, focusing the eyesight on the same distance, causing eye strain;
- Wearing wrong glasses - inadequately chosen glasses to correct vision defects (e.g. due to not undergoing regular eye tests), or wearing bifocal glasses, forcing work in unnatural positions.
Proper ergonomics in the workplace do not only ensure better comfort and safety, but are crucial for staying healthy. Optimal monitor settings, amount of working time at the computer and, above all, regular breaks every hour protect us against work-related ailments.