What Is Computer Vision Syndrome?

These days, many of us have jobs that require us to stare at computer screens for hours at a time. That can put a real strain on your eyes.

Eye problems caused by computer use fall under the heading computer vision syndrome (CVS). It isn’t one specific problem. Instead, it includes a whole range of eye strain and pain. Research shows that between 50% and 90% of people who work at a computer screen have at least some symptoms.

Working adults aren't the only ones affected. Kids who stare at tablets or use computers during the day at school can have issues, too, especially if the lighting and their posture are less than ideal.

How Do Computers Affect Vision?

CVS is similar to carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion injuries you might get at work. It happens because your eyes follow the same path over and over. And it can get worse the longer you continue the movement.

When you work at a computer, your eyes have to focus and refocus all the time.  They move back and forth as you read. You may have to look down at papers and then back up to type. Your eyes react to changing images on the screen to create so your brain can process what you’re seeing. All these jobs require a lot of effort from your eye muscles. And to make things worse, unlike a book or piece of paper, the screen adds contrast, flicker, and glare.

You’re more likely to have problems if you already have eye trouble, if you need glasses but don't have them, or if you wear the wrong prescription for computer use.

Computer work gets harder as you age and the lenses in your eyes becomes less flexible. Somewhere around age 40, your ability to focus on near and far objects will start to go away. Your eye doctor will call this condition presbyopia.

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What Are the Symptoms?

There's no proof that computer use causes any long-term damage to the eyes. But regular use can lead to eye strain and discomfort.

You may notice:

If you don’t do anything about them, it could affect more than your eyes. You could also have issues with your work performance.

How Is It Treated?

A few simple changes to your workspace can improve your symptoms and prevent new problems:

Cut the glare. Change the lighting around you to reduce the effect on your computer screen. If light from a nearby window casts a glare, move your monitor and close the shades. Ask your employer to install a dimmer switch for the overhead fixtures if they're too bright, or buy a desk lamp with a moveable shade that casts light evenly over your desk. You can also add a glare filter to your monitor.

Rearrange your desk. The best position for your monitor is slightly below eye level, about 20 to 28 inches away from your face. You shouldn't have to stretch your neck or strain your eyes to see what's on the screen. Put a stand next to your monitor and place any printed materials you're working from on it. That way, you won't have to look up at the screen and back down at the desk while you type.

Give your eyes a break. Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Look away from the screen every 20 minutes or so and look at something around 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. Blink often to keep your eyes moist. If they feel dry, try some eye drops.

Tweak your settings. You don't have to live with the factory-installed presets if you're uncomfortable. Adjust the brightness, contrast, and font size until you find what’s best for you.

Visit your eye doctor regularly for exams and to keep your prescriptions up to date. Let him know about any problems you have. You may need glasses or contact lenses. He’ll decide if you can wear your regular glasses for computer work or if you need a special pair. He might prescribe a single or bifocal lens, or tinted lens material to boost contrast and filter out glare.

Get your kids' eyes checked, too. Make sure any computers they use are set up at the right height and in the best light.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on June 12, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

American Optometric Association: "Computer vision syndrome (CVS)"; "The relationship of computer vision syndrome to musculoskeletal disorders"; "Criteria for determining whether the need for eyeglasses or other treatment is related to computer use"; and "Computer vision syndrome threatens returning students."

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