Miss Rachael Abu is a law student in Ghana who needs to prepare for her exams and spends close to eight hours reading from her laptop and doing research.
Both of them, on different occasions, complained about experiencing discomfort and burning sensations in the eyes, as well as occasional watery eyes and headaches when sitting in front of their laptops.
Rachael and Dominic also reported that when they took time away from the computer, their problems gradually went away and came back only after they resumed their work behind their computers.
Despite differences in use of their computers, they both have a condition called Computer Vision Syndrome.
Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is a complex of eye and vision-related problems which are experienced during or related to computer use.
In most cases, problems arise when the visual demands of the task exceed the visual abilities of the individual to comfortably perform the task.
Computers have become a 21st century necessity. Almost all institutions and even homes today use computers regularly.
They have revolutionised most professions and work performance; and with better technology emerging every day, their use will even be doubled over the next few years.
Worldwide, over 70 million workers are at risk of developing computer vision syndrome, and this number will likely grow in the coming years (Jane E Brody, 2016).
CVS can affect anyone who spends more than three hours a day on the computer, and studies have shown that 70 to 80 per cent of people who use computers extensively for either work or play have one or more vision-related challenges.
Some of these challenges include back pains, shoulder problems and neck pains, just to mention a few.
Most common symptoms involve the eye, and these include blurred vision at far or near, usually while working, double vision, burning sensation, itching, eye strain, dryness, which may or may not lead to tearing, and redness.
Causes and Pathophysiology
The eye responds very well to reading font sizes with well-defined edges, good background and contrast between letters.
The focusing mechanism of the eye seems to struggle a little when viewing electronically generated characters on Visual Display Terminals (VDT) like the computer screen.
The visual demand when using a computer far outweighs that of ordinary books.
Pixels of letters on a computer screen have blurred edges and are not as well defined, making it difficult for the eyes to maintain focus, resulting in an unconscious continuous relaxation and focusing of the eye, evidently resulting in muscular strain and ocular fatigue.
Several research studies have shown that the blink rate of an individual is reduced significantly when using computers.
The normal blink rate is between 17-26 blinks per minute. Blink rate can significantly reduce to as little as seven to four blinks per minute, and this can induce and or exaggerate pre-existing dry eye problems, which can be exacerbated by other environmental factors like working in a room with air-conditioning and poor lighting.
Improper ergonomics like wrong placement of computers, poor room lighting and glare can contribute greatly to increasing visual demand, hence making it uncomfortable to use computers for several hours.
The presence of uncorrected vision-related problems, no matter how small, can increase the severity of Computer Vision Syndrome.
Computer Vision Syndrome is diagnosed by your optometrist with a comprehensive eye examination.
The optometrist will take into consideration the patient’s history with elements of work ergonomics, computer use and its related symptoms.
The optometrist will perform vision-related examinations such as Visual Acuity (VA) test and refraction to rule out any amount of uncorrected refractive errors.
A Tear Stability test will be performed to rule out dry eyes. Muscular and accommodative properties of the eyes will also be examined.
Prevention, they say, is better than cure. Though some of the symptoms may not be ultimately prevented, a few changes at work could help reduce, if not prevent, the effects of the prolonged use of the computer.
Looking downwards is more comfortable when using the computer. It is better to have the computer screen or monitor 15 to 20 degrees below the eye level and position yourself about 20 to 28 inches away from the centre of the screen.
This allows the neck to be in a more relaxed position and also reduces the amount of area of the eye exposed to the screen, thus reducing dryness and itchiness of the eyes.
Position your computer screen such that they are not facing any windows or such that glare from overhead lighting does not pose a challenge to viewing there screen, evidently resulting in straining of the eyes.
In instances were glare cannot be avoided, antiglare screens can be employed.
Make sure the brightness from the computer is either a little more or uniform to the brightness of the environment.
This reduces the amount of strain on the eye and induces pupil constriction, which tends to give the eyes a greater range of focus.
Give your eyes some rest. Employ the 20-20-20-rule, which states that for every 20 minutes spent looking at the screen, take a 20-second break by looking away from the screen to a target preferably at 20-feet away.
This helps the eyes to refresh themselves and the reflex blinking which happens, helps to lubricate the eyes so that it can refocus on the more demanding computer screens again.
Eye drops such as artificial tears may be prescribed, especially for people with dry eyes.
All uncorrected refractive errors should be corrected with spectacle lenses, which have anti-reflective coatings, to reduce the effect of any arising discomfort.
Anti-reflective spectacles can also be worn by anybody to reduce the risk of having any problems whiles using the computers.
Dominic and Rachael were both educated on the ergonomics surrounding the use of the computers.
They were both given a pair of anti-reflective spectacles which proved very useful, especially for Rachael, since she had a refractive error she was not fully aware of.
Computer Vision Syndrome is a relatively new condition emerging in this century following the increased use of computers.
With advancing technologies and increased dependency on information technology, and a positive correlation between the use of computers and eye related problems, creation of awareness and sensitization is a step in the right direction.
CVS is reported to affect individuals of various ages, including children, and although its effects do not have long-term complications, symptoms and discomforts can still affect productivity to a great extent and reduce the quality of life.
Prevention is still the main stake in the management of this condition. Work ergonomics need to be modified, i.e. adjustment and positioning of the computer screen and prevention of glare.
Regular eye examinations can help identify uncorrected refractive errors, dry eyes and other related conditions that can worsen the situation.
Anti-reflective spectacles and contact lenses can be worn regularly or especially while using computers to prevent any form of discomfort. Remember the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look away for 20 seconds at an object 20 feet away.
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