It seems as if I’m constantly staring at a screen, whether it is the computer monitor at work, TV at home or my cell phone.
Despite prolonged screen time, when I started to develop debilitating sinus headaches I assumed they were caused by allergies or stress. After trying remedies ranging from over-the-counter medications to meditation, I realized I needed to take preventive action.
I made an appointment with my doctor, who in turn referred me to an optometrist. I learned I was struggling with a condition known as computer vision syndrome (CVS).
According to the American Optometric Association, the average office worker spends seven hours a day on a computer. Meanwhile, 58 percent of adults report they have experienced common symptoms of CVS including:
- Blurred vision
- Dry eyes
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Reduced attention span
These symptoms can impair the ability to concentrate and affect overall productivity, particularly for employees who are on a computer for an entire eight-hour shift. Common contributors to CVS include poor lighting, screen glare, improper viewing distances, bad posture and uncorrected vision problems.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports that CVS involves two mechanisms: extraocular muscles and the ocular surface of the eye.
Six extraocular muscles control movement in the eye and one muscle controls eyelid elevation. Extraocular muscle strain can cause neck stiffness, neck and shoulder pain, headaches and backaches. These symptoms can cause blurred vision and other complications. Other contributing factors may include the presence of ocular disease and the effects of aging.
The ocular surface of the eye includes the cornea and conjunctiva, covered by a thin layer of tear film. Some symptoms of ocular surface strain are tearing, dryness, redness, burning and contact lens-related discomfort. Ocular surface strain can be caused by issues such as:
- Poor computer resolution or contrast
- Glare off the display
- Slow refresh rate (frames per second)
Avoiding the Strain
Here are three steps I recommend for computer users who are experiencing eye strain symptoms:
Step 1: Understand your root cause. Get a professional medical evaluation. In my case, the eye doctor said the contacts I wear for near-sightedness magnify my vision and that staring at a monitor close to my face causes eye strain and headaches.
Step 2: Find the right solution for you. For example, I got glasses designed for computer use. They cut the magnification of my contact lenses in half.
Step 3: Evaluate your workstation(s). At the office, I asked our staff ergonomics expert to assess my workstation. My monitor was too high, causing neck strain, and the computer display settings required adjustment. I also made some changes to reduce glare and awkward postures in my home environment.
To avoid CVS, it’s also important to remember to:
- take frequent breaks
- use proper lighting
- minimize glare
- practice routine eye care
- make sure corrective lenses are properly fitted
- blink more often
Clinical experts say there is no evidence of permanent eye damage from digital eye strain. However, it can cause long-term discomfort unless you take definitive steps to alleviate it.
Alexis Lupo is WorkCare’s lead Proposal Writer.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides an ergonomic tool that includes guidelines on workstation assessments and setups.