Computer Vision Syndrome

Image of hands using a touch screen tablet.

Almost everyone uses computers in the modern world, whether for recreation, employment, education or any combination of the three. Unfortunately, our increased use of computers in almost every aspect of our lives -- even using a smartphone to make a telephone call -- requires our eyes to read a computer screen. According to a New York Times article, "Lenses to Ease the Strain from Staring at Screens," by Mickey Meece, over 30 percent of adults over the age of 18 spend "at least five hours a day on a computer, tablet or smartphone." This significant and increased amount of time has led the field of optometry to recognize and identify a visual and upper body muscular disorder now known as Computer Vision Syndrome.

Visual Challenges of Using Computers

The American Optometric Association took an early and necessary interest in what came to be known as Computer Vision Syndrome. Their research explains some of the reasons why reading words on a computer varies so much from reading words printed on ink on a paper page. Words are represented on a computer screen with pixels as opposed to ink or laser markings. Depending upon the screen's pixel resolution, letters of the alphabet can be fuzzy and almost seem to move. Other, more expensive computer monitors with increased pixels can make letters stand out more sharply from the desktop background and thus, make reading easier. The lighting of computers is also different that the overhead or lamplight illumination used when we read words on paper. Paper such as that used for bound books does not reflect light back into our eyes, further limiting our ability to differentiate a letter sharply from another. A similar example can be observed when some individuals attempt to read off of glossy magazine pages and find it more difficult that reading a paperback book or an electric company bill.

The physical distance from a desktop computer and the viewing angle can also increase eyestrain. Using a laptop or tablet computer allows the user to modify the distance between their eyes and the screen, only to encourage poor cervical posture similar to a turtle's head protruding from its shell. Finally, most individuals working at a desk are constantly readjusting their visual focus due to the various distances used for their work, such as reading correspondence, handwriting memos, reading an email online and switching to office telephone buttons or labels.

Symptoms for Your Eye Doctor to Evaluate

Visit your eye care provider if you experience one or more of the following symptoms:

• Eyestrain or "tired eyes"
• Headaches after working with a computer
• Blurry vision
• Dry eyes
• Neck and/or shoulder pain
• Worsening of existing eye disorders such as farsightedness, astigmatism or presbyopia

Treatments for Computer Vision Syndrome

The specific combination of treatment types used to help correct Computer Vision Syndrome is determined by their origin: visual, lighting, postural or mechanical. In many situations, experts advise computer users to increase word font sizes to minimize squinting and to adjust screen contrast systems so that words appear more distinctly. Some patients will require special computer glasses while others can find relief with use of an anti-glare computer screen. Dry eyes can be relieved by artificial tears and taking more frequent breaks from computer work. Ask your eye care provider today for treatments and techniques to minimize your chances of developing Computer Vision Syndrome.