Visual comfort and computers
Computer use has become standard in today’s society. Whether we are at home or work, it seems we can’t rid ourselves of some sort of electronic device. We, as optometrists, are frequently asked how this effects our eyes, and what can be done to protect ourselves from the dangers of prolonged screen time. As it turns out, our affinity for electronics is effecting both our ocular comfort as well as how well we see.
When using an electronic device (computer, phone, tablet, etc.), our blink rate not only decreases, but those blinks we do make are incomplete1. This leads to increased dry eye symptoms of grittiness, redness and blurred vision. As these symptoms increase, we may become irritable, tired, and less productive since it has then become uncomfortable to continue working. Children who are experiencing this may fail to complete assignments or exhibit poor attention to near tasks because of this extreme discomfort. To add insult to injury, these symptoms may be greatly magnified in those who wear contact lenses which can lead to unsatisfactory contact lens wear.
Clinically, we are commonly presented with complaints of blurred distance vision. At first glance this may (and many times does) indicate a need for corrective lenses to be worn for distance tasks. However, this is sometimes not the case, and during the exam we find that one’s distance vision complaints actually stem from a reading vision problem. Prolonged computer use can lead to the eye’s focusing muscle to become “locked” in position for that computer distance, which makes seeing long distances problematic. Eventually, the muscle will refocus, but usually with much effort and frustration
What can be done about this? The first step in solving computer strain is to assess the visual system for any areas of deficiency, which can be accomplished with a comprehensive eye exam. Not only should you be checked for glasses, but also for any focusing problems or eye-teaming deficiencies. The second step is practicing good visual hygiene, which we call the 20-20-20 rule. It means that every 20 minutes you should take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away. This encourages the muscles in your eyes to relax and reminds you to blink, which will greatly reduce dryness symptoms. You may also consider using artificial tears or enlarging your font on the screen. With these practices in place, you should be able to continue working more comfortably and efficiently, and leave your computer without strain, headaches, or fatigue!
1. Optom Vis Sci. 2013 May;90(5):482-7