On the Computer? Go Easy on the Eyes

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Susan Hurt is like millions of Americans, spending long hours at the computer. Doing so, however, is taking its toll.

"By the end of the day when I'm done working, my eyes are bothering me," she explained. "They're sore. They're tired. They're dry and irritated."

Hurt is not alone. It's estimated 70 percent of computer-users experience headaches, pain in the neck, shoulders, back, arm or wrist, and all sorts of vision problems.

Too Close for Comfort

In the last few decades, nearsightedness has increased dramatically in the U.S.

The eyes were meant to do a great deal of focusing on things in the distance, like food or danger. Today, an inordinate amount of time is spent focusing on things that are close -- such as cell phones, video games and computers. And according to ophthalmologist Dr. Earl Crouch, it's a huge problem.

"We see two or three patients a day with computer eye strain," the chairman of the School of Ophthalmology at Eastern Virginia Medical School said.

Children are being affected as well. Erin Coleman, 10, admits spending lots of time doing close work and close play.

"I have a laptop, a DSI, an Xbox and a Wii," she said.

Unfortunately, computer eye strain often goes undetected in children because they tend to suffer in silence. Since children don't know when to complain, parents need to schedule regular eye screenings for their kids.

"Be sure your child is seen at age 3 for a complete eye examination by an MD ophthalmologist, MD physician," Crouch recommended. "Also at age 6 years - before first grade, age 9 years, and then age 12 years."

Keeping the Eyes Sharp

Computer eye strain is preventable and correctable. People can start by revamping their work station.

Eye strain is often caused by excessively bright light, so darkening the room may help. Ambient lighting should be about half as bright as most offices.

Position the computer monitor so that any windows are to the side, instead of in front or behind. Glare can be reduced by switching to a flat screen monitor and lowering the blinds.

What's on the screen also matters. Black text on a white background is best, but other dark-on-light combinations can work well. Avoid text colors that are similar to the background and avoid text on a busy background.

Also, position monitors about 20 inches from the face and down about 20 degrees.

"Don't have the computer right at eye level, horizontal," Crouch advised. "Have the screen down a little bit so you're actually focusing down, because if you are trying to keep your eyes wide open while looking at the computer it's not as good."

It also helps to use a sturdy, comfortable chair with armrests. Consider using a footstool, too.

Don't Forget to Blink!

There are lots of little things that can be done to soothe and strengthen the eyes -- like remembering to blink. Studies show when individuals are on a computer, they blink five times less than normally.

"One thing that's helpful is if they put a little note on their computers to say blink, another way is after typing every two or three sentences, remember to blink," Crouch said.

In addition to blinking, artificial tears also combat dry eyes. The best way to administer drops is to put them in the outer corners and close the eye for 15 seconds. Artificial tears can go in the eyes every hour.

Perhaps the best way to fight computer eye strain is the 20-20-20 rule -- every 20 minutes look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Also, take frequent breaks, preferably by getting up and walking around. A good night's rest is also important because computer eye strain is aggravated by improper sleep. Even closing our eyes at work will leave us feeling refreshed.

"Take a 20 minute power nap and then you can restore the nutrients to your eyes," Crouch said. "You'll feel better and do better work."

A healthy diet also nourishes the eyes, particularly omega-3 fatty acids like those found in fish oil.

While many may not be able to control how much time they spend at the computer, there is plenty to do to make it less of a risk.

*Original broadcast May 9, 2010. 

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Lorie  Johnson

Lorie Johnson

CBN News Medical Reporter

Lorie Johnson reports on the latest information about health and wellness. Since medicine is constantly changing, she makes sure CBN News viewers are up-to-date on what they need to know in order to live a healthy life.  Follow Lorie on Twitter @LorieCBN and "like" her at Facebook.com/LorieJohnsonCBN.