October 3, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 24

Is your computer vision becoming a pain in the neck?

Community Health

Lenz: “This here computer is makin my vision fuzzy.”

Iris: “Are ya wearin yer readin glasses?”

Lenz: “Oh, yeah, I fergot about that.”

Millions of people each day suffer from Computer Vision Syndrome. Its symptoms include blurred vision, eyestrain, headaches, body fatigue, eye irritation (dryness), and yes even a stiff neck.

Blurred vision can occur from a variety of causes. Sometimes just a slight change in correction can make a big difference in vision clarity- especially for those needing that first reading lens at any age. For example, college students often experience troubles changing focus in class due to the visual demands. This occurs often with farsighted folks that have a slightly different refractive error from one eye to the other. The brain is trying to focus equally between the two eyes and can’t.

Eyestrain and later headaches can occur for the same reason. Imagine trying to carry two suitcases of different weights at the same level. The arm carrying the most weight gets fatigued faster and has to relax eventually.

With your eyes, however, this causes either blurred and/or double vision because the eyes aren’t focused and pointing at the same point in space. This can lead to Strabismus (eye turns) and/or Amblyopia (lazy eye) – where the brain tries to turn one eye off for comfort.

Since the brain uses over 25 percent of the body’s energy, eye fatigue soon leads to whole body fatigue. When the brain can’t readily turn one eye off, it drains energy at such a rate that the body collapses.

Eye irritation can come from a variety of causes. Dryness often occurs when a person forgets to blink-as if mesmerized by the flicker of the computer diodes. The tear film breaks down and exposes the eyes to the environment. Another cause can be the ultraviolet light given off from the computer screen that causes free radicals to form in the tear film-thus breaking it down, and causing dry eye problems.

I’ve found the Stiff-Necked computer group are generally wearing bifocals, both lined and no-lined, needing a higher reading change for near work, and doing lots of computer viewing whether for work or pleasure.

Since you have to tip your head back to get into the reading portion of the lens, this causes a pinch on the backside of the neck, especially since you have to also get closer to the computer to see the screen clearly.

After 2-3 hours in this position the neck rebels from fatigue. This same problem can also occur from single vision glasses, due to the different distances of the keyboard and the computer screen from the eyes. Rocking back and forth to get the correct focus for each distance can cause the neck to fatigue after a while. Thank goodness these problems can be helped.

A simple reading glasses prescription can help the eyes work as a team, reducing eye fatigue, strain, headaches, and body fatigue. A simple exercise can help too.

Use the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away, for 20 seconds. Better yet, change focus back and forth from 20 inches to 20 feet and back again, 20 times, in 20 seconds if possible. This helps loosen up ocular and neck muscles. Dryness can be reduced by consciously blinking more often. Also, adding a good ultraviolet and antireflection coating to the lenses helps reduce glare for better comfort and eye health.

Finally, I’ve found that a special bifocal, for those needing a higher reading change power, can really save your neck.

Instead of the top being a far away distance, set it for the computer screen distance, and the reading area set for the keyboard. This way you look more naturally at both the screen and keyboard. You also get more viewing area than an alternative trifocal.

It should be noted that if a glasses correction is also needed for far distance vision, this specialty lens should be a secondary pair of glasses used for computer work, and a regular bifocal should be used for general viewing needs. Sometimes comfort is worth the extra money.

Since computers have become a big part of our visual world, hopefully you can now be more comfortable and efficient in their use.

Dr. Scott Borgholthaus is owner of Vision Haus Optometry in Cheney. He is a member of the Optometric Physicians of Washington and has been in private practice for over 27 years.

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