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Excessive use of electronic devices, particularly those with small or bright screens, is linked to problems with eyesight. Computer vision syndrome becomes increasingly common among both office workers and general population.

With the growing availability and constant utilization of electronic equipment, both at home and in workplaces, the health risks associated with their use become a serious concern. The most obvious “victim” of new technology is our vision. 

Visual eyestrain is very common

Americans spent on average 6 to 9 hours a day in front of digital devices. Although this brings a number of benefits, it also poses numerous problems for the eyes.

The term “digital eyestrain” or “computer vision syndrome” is used to refer to discomfort that follows the prolonged use (two or more hours) of digital devices.

Studies suggest that eyestrain and other important, inconvenient visual symptoms occur in 50 to 90% of computer workers, making this a major job-related complaint.

What are the symptoms and who are the most affected?

Symptoms of digital eyestrain are multiple and include: back and neck pain, physical fatigue, dry eyes, headaches, red or irritated eyes, blurred vision, problems focusing, and, less commonly, binocular vision problems, such as words moving on the screen due to underlying eye alignment issues. Digital eyestrain may be worse in people who wear prescription eyeglasses, because regular eye wear lenses (like bifocals and progressive lenses) are generally not suited for reading on the computer.

Unsurprisingly, this problem affects anyone whose job requires a long-term use of digital devices. Radiologists, for example, have suffered from the fact that imaging studies have been routed over digital networks. A study conducted in the US showed that reading diagnostic images from digital displays fatigues the accommodative response (i.e., the focus response) in radiologists. The degradation seems to be worse for near vision. It is also the main problem – reading radiology imaging studies is near work. If the muscles required to do such an exercise become fatigued as the day progresses, the radiologist will have a harder time focusing on the display properly. Consequently, it may be more difficult to read images, which may reduce accuracy or increase reading times.

Reading from paper is less stressful for eyes

One could pose the question of these symptoms being a specific consequence of operating with computers or simply a manifestation of performing a sustained near-vision task for long periods of time. For example, one recent study compared the performance of an editing task when the material was either presented on a VDT or in hard copy form. They observed that subjects made fewer errors and performed the task quicker with the hard copy presentation. In another research, scientists compared ocular symptoms immediately following a sustained near-task viewed either on a computer monitor or in hard copy format. Identical text was used in the two sessions. Significant differences in median symptom scores were found with regard to blurred vision during the task and the mean symptom score. In both cases, symptoms were higher during computer use.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • KRUPINSKI, E. A. & BERBAUM, K. S. 2009. Measurement of Visual Strain in Radiologists. Academic Radiology, 16, 947-950
  • ROSENFIELD, M. 2011. Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Ophtalmic & Physiological Optics, 31, 502-515
  • THE VISION COUNCIL 2014. DigitEYEzed: The Daily Impact of Digital Screens on the Eye Health of Americans
  • ROSENFIELD, M., HUE, J. E., HUANG, R. R. & BABABEKOVA, Y. 2012. The effects of induced oblique astigmatism on symptoms and reading performance while viewing a computer screen. Ophtalmic & Physiological Optics, 32, 142-148
  • THORUD HM, HELLAND M, AARÅS A, KVIKSTAD TM, LINDBERG LG & HORGEN G 2012. Eye-related pain induced by visually demanding computer work. Optometry and Vision Science, 89, E452-64.
  • Photo courtesy of Florence Ivy by Flickr :
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