Computer Vision Syndrome: What You Need to Know

Are you suffering from computer vision syndrome? Here, what can you do about it

Your vision is blurry, you’re squinting at the computer screen, your head hurts and after a full day’s work you feel exhausted. Is it work-related stress or changes to your vision… or something else?

If these symptoms sound familiar, you could be experiencing computer vision syndrome (CVS) — a common but temporary condition experienced by many people who work on computers for long periods of time. Just how common is CVS?

According to the Ontario Association of Optometrists, as many as 70-75 per cent of computer users suffer from CVS at some point. Many people aren’t aware of the condition, let alone how to treat it.

What is CVS?

The American Optometry Association classifies computer vision syndrome as a collection of eye and vision problems related to computer work. The reason behind the condition is quite simple. Essentially, our eyes are used to reading print. The contrast of type to background is high (usually black on white), letters have clearly defined edges and the images are stable. However, your eyes respond differently to images and text on a computer screen which have “fuzzy edges” due to how pixels are displayed. Your eyes therefore have to work harder to focus, and may be constantly adjusting and re-adjusting to keep the image as stable and clear as possible. Improper lighting conditions, viewing distance and glare also make it harder to see the screen comfortably. People who already experience vision problems such as near-sightedness or astigmatism, or who wear bifocals or trifocals, may have even more difficulties.

Sound exhausting? All this extra work can lead to eye strain and other symptoms including blurred vision, double vision, dry or irritated eyes, headaches, neck and shoulder strain and fatigue. In addition to being uncomfortable, CVS can affect your focus and productivity at work.

The good news is much of the stress and discomfort can be alleviated (and prevented!) through changes to your work environment and habits.


What you can do about it:

See your optometrist: Your eye doctor can determine if your symptoms are due to changes in the eye, abnormalities, reaction to medication, illness or CVS. He or she can determine if your prescription, contacts or contact lens solution needs changing, and can suggest other changes to your work environment and routine. Even if you aren’t experiencing any problems, regular yearly check-ups are especially important for people who perform visually-demanding work.

Improve your eye wear: Is your prescription up-to-date? Uncorrected vision problems are a leading contributor to CVS. Also, consider adding an anti-reflective coating to your lenses to reduce discomfort, or invest in a new pair of glasses specifically designed for computer use (especially if you wear bifocals or trifocals). Instead of adjusting your vision for all distances or focusing on print material, computer glasses are optimized for seeing on the computer and some small distance around you. Talk to your eye doctor about the options.

Update your equipment: The general consensus is that liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors are easier to see than their older counterparts, the cathode ray tube (CRT) display. Look for high resolution which will make the images sharper and crisper. CRTs often have a flicker which may or may not be noticeable. If you have to use a CRT at work, adjust the “refresh rate” to more than 75 hertz. Higher refresh rates mean less flickering.

Adjust your work station: Make sure your workstation, both at home and at the office, is set up properly. When it comes to your eyes, the Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends that your screen should be about arm’s length away from your eyes, and you should be looking down at the screen, not up. The ideal angle is 20 degrees below eye level. If you have a laptop, try raising it on a stand and using an external keyboard and mouse to ensure proper height and viewing distance.

Change the contrast and resolution of your display: Changing the colour, brightness and contrast settings on your computer’s display can help ease eye strain by making words easier to see. Enlarging the type in word processing software can also help. You can also change the size of text in your favourite internet browser by pressing Ctrl and + to enlarge, and Ctrl and — to shrink.

Adjust room lighting: Improper lighting is a significant contributing factor for CVS. Bright light is the culprit, according to Office lighting tends to be twice as bright as necessary and harsh light coming in through a window can also cause vision strain. Try reducing the amount of light by turning off some overhead lights and shading the windows. Aim for ambient light and avoid glare from windows, walls and other reflective surfaces. A desk lamp pointed away from the computer screen or your eyes can is another option.

Replace the moisture: On average, people blink about twelve to fifteen times per minute. However, when you’re concentrating on a task, you tend blink less — as little as five times per minute! Your eyes therefore receive less of the lubricating and moisturizing tears that are distributed when you blink. Try artificial eye drops and gels to replace moisture, and remember to blink more often.

Take breaks: Optometrists recommend that for every hour you are on the computer, you should take a 5-10 minute break away from it. Switch tasks, get up from your chair, stretch and move around — these actions are also good for preventing aches and strains in general. Or try the 20-20-20 break: Every twenty minutes focus on something at least twenty feet away for twenty seconds. The goal is to give your eyes a respite by focusing on something else for a while. Worried about taking time out? Don’t be: studies show that taking short breaks actually increases your productivity throughout the day.

These few simple solutions can help the decrease the strain on your eyes. In addition, your optometrist may recommend a series of eye exercises to complete throughout the day.

Before you reach for that extra cup of coffee or bottle of pain killers, consider what might be causing the pain, strain and fatigue you are experiencing. Any concerns you have should be addressed with your optometrist and employer.

All About Vision
American Optometry Association
Canadian Association of Optometrists
Ontario Association of Optometrists

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