Take a rest from your computer screen every 20 minutes, advise Israeli and British ophthalmologists

There aren’t many people who don’t look at electronic screens – whether those of their smartphones, computers, tablets, electronic book readers and TVs – less than three hours per day. Studies have shown that 90% of those who do suffer from digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome (CVS) whose symptoms include tiredness and a feeling that the eyes are overworked.

Many people experience eye discomfort and vision problems when viewing digital screens for extended periods. The level of discomfort increases with the amount of digital screen use.

Before the computer age began, office work involved a variety of activities including filing, typing and reading from and writing on paper. Since then, all these activities have been merged into one continuous activity – working opposite a computer screen. 

The average American worker spends seven hours a day on the computer either in the office or working from home, and it is no different – and perhaps worse – in Israel and other countries. The most common symptoms of the condition are eyestrain, blurred vision, headaches, dry eyes, neck and shoulder pain and eve double vision (diplopia).  

Viewing a computer or digital screen often makes the eyes work harder. As a result, the unique characteristics and high visual demands of computer and digital screen viewing make many individuals susceptible to the development of vision-related symptoms. Uncorrected vision problems can increase the severity of CVS or digital eyestrain symptoms. 

Viewing a computer or digital screen is different than reading a printed page. Often the letters on the computer or handheld device are not as precise or sharply defined, the level of contrast of the letters to the background is reduced, and the presence of glare and reflections on the screen may make viewing difficult.

Viewing distances and angles used for this type of work are also often different from those commonly used for other reading from books or newspapers or writing. As a result, the eye focusing and eye movement requirements for digital screen viewing can place additional demands on the eyes. 

Poor lighting, glare on a digital screen, improper viewing distances, uncorrected vision problems, poor seating posture or a combination of all these factors can exacerbate the condition. 

If the individual has even minor vision problems, using electronic screens can be major contributing factors to computer-related eyestrain. Even people who wear eyeglasses or contact lenses may find they are not suitable for the specific viewing distances of their computer screen. Some people tilt their heads at odd angles because their glasses aren’t designed for looking at a computer or they bend toward the screen to see it clearly. Their postures can result in muscle spasms or pain in the neck, shoulder or back.

In most cases, symptoms of CVS occur because the visual demands of the task exceed the visual abilities of the individual to comfortably perform them. At greatest risk for developing CVS are those persons who spend two or more continuous hours at a computer or using a digital screen device every day.

Dr. Nir Ardinest of the ophthalmology depart at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem and Dr. David Berkow of the School of Life and Health Sciences at Aston University in Birmingham in the US write about these problems in the latest issue of Harefuah, the Hebrew-language journal of the Israel Medical Association. 

“There are many solutions and ways to treat the different symptoms related to the vision, the screen and ocular surface and especially the symptoms related to the issue of dry eye,” which is caused by the failure to blink regularly and lubricate the eye, the authors wrote. 

To help alleviate digital eyestrain, follow the 20-20-20 rule: take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes. Changing the lighting to incandescent rather than halogen and LED light can also help, along with correct positioning of the screen and correcting the direction of gaze can help, as can the use of artificial tears and increasing the amount of moisture in the room. The blue light emanating from most screens can be toned down, as it not only causes vision problems and can create changes in the retina but also interferes with sound sleep because it interferes with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, the ophthalmologists write. 

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