How to Minimize Computer Vision Syndrome and Posture-Related Problems
More and more jobs, hobbies and home office related tasks are being performed on computers. With that comes new health problems related not only to our vision, but also to our posture. An estimated 50-90% of computer workers suffer eyestrain or other health problems from working at a computer. Some of the most common problems are outlined below, along with helpful suggestions for rectifying or avoiding them.
Computer Vision Syndrome
Many people begin to suffer from headaches when they use the computer for long periods of time. This problem is most commonly caused by your vision, and a simple eye exam can diagnose the problem. One cause of vision problems in people over 40 is presbyopia. As we age, the lens of the eye begins to lose its flexibility, restricting our ability to focus on objects close up. A common sign of this vision problem is having to hold an object at armís length to read the small print. Presbyopia can make the computer screen slightly out of focus, even with regular glasses, and this can lead to eye strain and headaches.
In younger people, computer vision problems can be caused by using incorrect eyewear during computer use. Typical glasses and contact lenses are designed to help the wearer see clearly at a distance, such as while driving, or up close for tasks like reading. The computer screen is at an intermediate distance (further than near vision, but closer than far vision) and you may need different glasses to help you focus at this distance. Special computer glasses may also help reduce glare, reflected light and eyestrain by having an anti-reflective coating, UV-absorbing coating and/or blue blocker tint.
Whatever your age, you should have an eye exam at least every 2 years, whether or not you wear glasses. Be sure to tell your eye doctor if you spend a lot of time on the computer.
Other problems at the computer, such as back pain, can be related to vision. For example, people often adopt an unnatural posture as they try to view the computer screen through the bottom part of bifocal lenses, or through reading glasses which were not intended for that purpose. Sitting incorrectly, especially for long periods of time, can put strain on many different parts of the body, causing discomfort and even injury.
Once you're sure you have the correct glasses for computer work, reassess your lighting. Window lighting should be to the side of a computer, not behind or in front of the screen. Excessively bright light from office interior lighting or an exterior source can be a problem. When you use a computer, lighting should be about half the brightness found in most offices, as the screen is naturally bright. Use blinds to lower natural light or use fewer fluorescent tubes or lower intensity bulbs.
Trade in that old screen
If you have an old tube-style monitor rather than a flat-screen, you may benefit by upgrading it. Old fashioned cathode ray tube (CRT) screens have flickering images which cause major eyestrain. Liquid crystal displays (LCD) have no flicker, are easier on the eyes and often have an anti-reflective surface as well.
If you are buying a new screen, buy a large display of at least 19 inches in size for a desktop computer. Also choose the highest resolution possible. A monitor with a lower dot pitch has a sharper picture, so choose one with a dot pitch of 0.28mm or smaller.
Blinking helps the eyes remain moist. Office air is often dry so every 20 minutes, try to blink slowly 10 times. If you suffer from dry eye symptoms, use artificial tears to restore comfort.
Make sure you look away from the screen every 20 minutes or so, and focus on something distant for 10-15 seconds. This will relax the focusing muscles and reduce fatigue. Take frequent 5 minute mini-breaks. Stand up, move around and stretch your arms, legs, back and neck or do some circulatory exercises.
Bad posture and non-ergonomic setup is another common cause of head, neck, shoulder and back pain during computer use. There is no correct posture for everyone, but knowing what to look for will help you to consciously choose a safe and healthy position for working. Check these quick tips to achieve correct ergonomic positioning.
- Place your computer screen directly in front of you, not off to one side. It should be 20 - 26inches away from your eyes.
- Ensure that your computer screen is not too high or too low. The center of the screen should be 4 to 9 inches below your straight-ahead gaze. If necessary raise or lower your chair, or place your monitor on some books to make it higher.
- Your computer chair should have full lumbar support for your back, with a well-padded seat for your thighs and hips.
- Knees should be the same height as your hips with feet slightly forward.
- Feet should be flat on the floor (or footstool, if you can't reach).
- Arms should be parallel to the floor when typing.
- Finally, make sure you keep your back straight and your shoulders back while you're working. No slouching!
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