SOURCE: American Optometric Association

March 17, 2008 08:00 ET

Vision Discomfort Associated With Computer Vision Syndrome

Improper Arrangement of Computers and Prolonged Use May Strain Eyesight; Video From American Optometric Association Offers Health Tips

ST. LOUIS, MO--(Marketwire - March 17, 2008) - The American Optometric Association (AOA) today advised that Americans who use computers daily at work or at home could suffer from computer vision syndrome, which leaves them vulnerable to problems like dry eye, eyestrain, neck and/or backache, light sensitivity and fatigue. These symptoms can result from individual visual problems, poor work station configuration and improper work habits.

According to the AOA's 2007 American Eye-Q® survey, which identified Americans' attitudes and behaviors regarding eye care and related issues, 82 percent of Americans frequently work with a computer or a handheld device, such as a PDA. Supporting this, a recent Omnibus survey showed that 42 percent of respondents spend three or more hours a day in front of a computer or handheld device. Additionally, 78 percent of Americans do not have their computer monitor positioned at the correct height -- below eye level.

Pre-existing, uncorrected vision problems like farsightedness and astigmatism, inadequate eye focusing or eye coordination abilities, and age-related eye issues also contribute to computer vision syndrome.

"Working at a computer requires a great deal of eye movement and eye focusing," said Dr. Kent Daum, AOA optometrist and Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs at the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago. "The constant re-focusing effort stresses the eye muscle, leading to computer-related vision problems. It can have a great impact on individuals' comfort and productivity, whether they are at work, school or home."

According to the survey, Americans are feeling the pain of computer vision syndrome. Forty-one percent said they have experienced eye strain, and 45 percent cited neck or back pain after prolonged computer or handheld device use. Many of these symptoms are temporary and will improve after ceasing computer work. However, some individuals may continue to experience visual problems, such as such as blurred distance vision, even after computer work has stopped. If the causes of the problem are not addressed, the symptoms will recur, and perhaps worsen, with future computer use.

Special computer glasses and computer screen filters are available to help reduce glare and discomfort, but only 11 percent of Americans currently use these devices.

According to the AOA, Americans should follow these guidelines to prevent or reduce eye and vision problems associated with computer vision syndrome:

--  Have your vision checked regularly.  Prior to age 61, adults should
    have a comprehensive eye exam every two years, or as recommended by an eye
    doctor, and annually after that age.  Vision and eye health can change
    rapidly and frequently, particularly as one ages; therefore, having one's
    vision examined on a regular, timely basis is important to maintaining
    overall health and for preventative reasons.
    
--  Limit the amount of time you continuously use the computer.
    Practicing the 20/20 rule (look away from the computer every 20 minutes for
    20 seconds) will minimize the development of eye-focusing problems and eye
    irritation caused by infrequent blinking.
    
--  Check the height and arrangement of the computer.  Optometrists
    suggest more comfortable computer viewing can be achieved when the eyes are
    looking downward. Optimally, the computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees
    below eye level (about 4 or 5 inches) as measured from the center of the
    screen and 20 to 28 inches from the eyes.
    
--  Check for glare on the computer screen.  Windows or other light
    sources should not be directly visible when sitting in front of the
    monitor.  When this occurs, turn the desk or computer to prevent glare on
    the screen.
    
--  Reduce the amount of lighting in the room to match the computer
    screen.  A smaller light can be substituted for a bright overhead light or
    a dimmer switch can be installed to give flexible control of room lighting.
    Turn three-way bulbs to the lowest setting.
    
--  Keep Blinking.  To minimize the chances of developing dry eye when
    using a computer, make an effort to blink frequently. Blinking keeps the
    front surface of the eye moist.
    

"Viewing a computer screen is different than reading a printed page," said Dr. Daum. "Often the letters on the computer screen 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."

Computer vision syndrome can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination. Testing, with special emphasis on visual requirements at the computer working distance, may include:

--  Taking a patient history to identify existing symptoms, any general
    health problems, medications taken, or environmental factors that may be
    contributing to computer vision syndrome.
--  Measuring visual acuity to assess the extent to which vision may be
    affected.
--  A refraction to determine the appropriate lens power needed to
    compensate for any refractive errors (nearsightedness, farsightedness or
    astigmatism).
--  Testing how the eyes focus, move and work together. To obtain a clear,
    single image of what is being viewed, the eyes must effectively change
    focus, move and work in unison. This testing will look for problems that
    keep the eyes from focusing effectively or make it difficult to use both
    eyes together.
    

Using the information obtained from these tests, along with results of other tests, your optometrist can determine if you have computer vision syndrome and advise you on treatment options. For additional information regarding computer vision syndrome, please visit www.aoa.org.

Survey Information

The second American Eye-Q® survey was commissioned by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC). Using a random digit dialing methodology, ORC conducted interviews with 1,005 Americans 18 years and older who embodied a nationally representative sample of U.S. households. The margin of error is +/-3.1 percent for the general population. All data is weighted to represent the U.S. general populations with respect to gender, geographic region, and age group.

The AOA Omnibus survey was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) CARAVAN Services from January 31 - February 1, 2008. Using a random digit dialing methodology, ORC conducted interviews with 1,000 Americans 18 years and older who embodied a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults. The margin of error is 3 percentage points for the general population. All data is weighted to represent the U.S. general population with respect to gender, geographic region, race and age group.

About the American Optometric Association (AOA):

The American Optometric Association represents more than 34,000 doctors of optometry, optometry students and paraoptometric assistants and technicians. Optometrists serve patients in nearly 6,500 communities across the country, and in 3,500 of those communities are the only eye doctors.

American Optometric Association doctors of optometry are highly qualified, trained doctors on the frontline of eye and vision care who examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the eye. In addition to providing eye and vision care, optometrists play a major role in a patient's overall health and well-being by detecting systemic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Doctors of optometry have the skills and training to provide more than two-thirds of all primary eye care in the United States.

Prior to optometry school, optometrists undergo three to four years of undergraduate study that typically culminates in a Bachelor of Science degree in a field such as biology or chemistry. Optometry school consists of four years of post-graduate, doctoral study concentrating on both the eye and systemic health. In addition to their formal training, doctors of optometry must undergo annual continuing education to stay current on the latest standards of care. For more information, visit www.aoa.org.

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