To Your Health

Computer Vision Syndrome, Burning Eyes, Blurry Vision and Worse

Updated 43 weeks ago Peter McCarthy
Taking a Break Can Help
Taking a Break Can Help
© David Stone for Roosevelt Island Daily

If you're reading this on a computer, tablet or phone, you may, like me, be someone who spends a lot of their working hours scanning content displayed digitally on a screen, and you probably have the same dry, burning eyes and blurred vision. There's a name for that: Computer Vision Syndrome.

We Don't Know How Big the Problem Is

Estimates for the number of people afflicted with computer vision syndrome vary wildly. 

Worldwide, according to the New York Times, up to 70 million workers are at risk. That's a big number, but with 7.4 billion people in the world, give or take, at this very moment, that's less than 1%. Not worth getting excited about, but also, probably, way underestimated.

Also dizzyingly inaccurate is the American Optometric Association's claim that the "...average American worker spends seven hours a day on the computer." 

No, I don't think they mean the same computer, but even so, if you factor in taxi drivers, auto mechanics, furniture movers, acrobats and others who rarely use computers on the job, I believe that number loses its luster in terms of being on the money.

Part of the problem is that there are really no good studies defining the extent of the problem computer vision syndrome creates. Another issue is its definition. The blurry burning eyes, sure, and blurred vision too. But lower back pain, as multiple sources suggest? That might be something else.

So, What Is Computer Vision Syndrome?

The best definition is a set of symptoms common among people who look at computer screens more than three hours a day: "headaches, blurred vision, neck pain, redness in the eyes, fatigueeye straindry eyes, irritated eyes, and double vision," according to Wikipedia.

Experts are coalescing around three hours a day of looking at screens as where you cross the bar into high risk.

By 7:00 a.m., when the rest of the world starts staggering toward coffee machines and waking up in showers, I've normally booked two-plus hours with my laptop. I pass the three hour danger zone soon after breakfast.

Although most of you don't get up as early as I do, a lot of you pass the three-hour threshold before lunch, in a cubicle, at a desk, inputing and taking output.

Millennials, so frequently glued to their phones, even while crossing the street, race into the danger zone early. Oriented as we are around shared information and resources in client/server networks, collecting three hours is inevitable with many occupations.

And then, of course, during nonworking hours – and honestly, often during – we log onto the internet to see what our dozens of friends have posted on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, to name a smattering few, adding to the visual load.

There's our problem in a digital nutshell, and don't expect it to change soon.

Some Solutions

I'm not going to stop researching and writing on my computer, and you're not likely to stop checking in with your universe of online friends, much less switch to a job without computers.

We are going to remain under the threat of computer vision syndrome. We need to be armed to defend our eyes against the damage.

What can you do? There are some easy solutions.

Since the problem is the result of eye strain from reading not very well-defined letters on a screen, you can give yourself a break with...

  • The 20-20-20 method. Every twenty minutes take your eyes off your computer and stare at something twenty feet away for twenty seconds. It's simple but effective, if you remember to do it.
  • Blink on purpose as often as you can. Screen watching reduces normal blinking, causing your eyes to dry out.
  • Use eye drops several times a day.
  • Pause a few times every hour and close your eyes for one minute. This little break is surprisingly effective. But caution: in my last office job, closing my eyes was invitation to a nap. If you're bored silly with your work, you might want to try something else.
  • Buy a pair of over-the-counter glasses with a plus of 1.00 to 1.50. Wear them to add extra strength to your vision.
  • Limit your screen time to what's necessary. Go out for a walk during lunch, for example, instead of checking in on Facebook or reading the current news. Both can wait.

Conclusion

If you already suffer symptoms of computer vision syndrome, chances are you will continue to. If you don't, you probably will, soon enough.

Until the next quantum change takes us beyond computers to something that isn't so hard on our eyes, we need to do whatever we can to aid those two orbs separated by our noses. The tips above should help, and besides, staring out the window for a few minutes is well-known to provide greater benefits that easing eye strain.

You might start enjoying your job even more.

"Sorry, boss. It's therapy!"

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