A Sight For Sore Eyes

Computer displays can be hazardous to your vision

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The personal computer has become ubiquitous in the business world since its introduction, but has not been without problems. Repetitive stress injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, have heightened public awareness of the potential health hazards of spending long hours typing on a computer keyboard. Vision-related problems have also become an issue due to the corresponding increase in the use of computer monitors.

“The most common symptoms are eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision and dry or irritated eyes,” says optometrist Stanley Segal of Dr.’s Savoy and Segal in Jersey City, New Jersey. “The extent to which someone may experience these symptoms is really based on his or her own visual health,” says Segal. “Working long hours at a computer terminal may exacerbate an existing or undiagnosed eyesight deficiency, but it will likely not cause a permanent problem,” he says.

When you’re inputting data from paper to a computer, the eye has to refocus every time you switch attention from the monitor to the paper. This causes the muscles in the eye to grow tired, thereby producing eyestrain. Uncorrected vision, poor computer monitor design, workplace ergonomics and a visually demanding job can contribute to the development of eye problems. Older people may find it more difficult to adjust to these working requirements.

According to the American Optometric Association (AOA) in St. Louis, eyesight problems experienced by computer users are generally only temporary and will decline after taking a break from the computer monitor at the end of the work day. But to prevent or alleviate eye and vision discomfort, the AOA suggests the following:

  • Take frequent alternative task breaks. Stop working at the computer monitor for a few minutes and work on another task. After working at the monitor for one hour straight, do some filing or catch up on phone calls, etc. Anything that will not cause your eyes to work as hard is considered an alternative task break. Another way to relax your eyes is to simply close them for a few minutes.
  • “Optometrists will tell you that the eye’s natural way of relaxing itself is by looking at a distance. When the eye does this, it does not require much focusing and therefore does not use as many muscles as if you were reading, doing needlepoint or working at a computer monitor,” explains Charlotte Rancilio, administrative director of media relations with the AOA.
  • When looking at computer screens with dark backgrounds, use lower lighting. When working in a home office setting, use about half the normal office lighting. In an office setting, remove overhead fluorescent light bulbs. Dimmer lighting will reduce glare on the screen. The contrast between the screen and the characters should be high. Dark characters on a light screen are generally more legible than light characters on a dark screen. To check for sources of glare, place a small mirror in front of the monitor. I will direct you to the sources of light that cause glare.
  • Keep the computer monitor clean. “When the monitor is clean, your eyes will not have
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