Whether it’s the smart phone and its beguiling apps or the necessary business of working in front of a computer all day, most people are spending far too much time in front of screens. It’s a scenario that eyes aren’t evolved to cope with, and the group of eye problems falling under the umbrella term “Computer Vision Syndrome” (CVS) is the inevitable result.
Behavioural optometrists like Jacqueline Gattegno of Eyes in Design Bondi are experiencing the rise of CVS, or digital eye strain as it is sometimes called, first hand. Her branch of optometry involves further study that helps her to look at how people use their eyes, the visual skills they need to develop, and the therapies they may need in order to use their eyes for the tasks that make up a regular day.
“The most well-known application for behavioural optometry is developmental optometry, where the way children’s visual skills are developing is evaluated, and any issues that may be holding back their schoolwork are addressed,” she says. “But now, increasing numbers of adults are in need of interventions, and many of them are not aware of behavioural optometry as an option. With Computer Vision Syndrome on the rise, this needs to change.”
CVS: Prevalence, Causes, and Symptoms
Depending on which studies one reads, anything from 64 to 90 percent of computer users experience the effects of Computer Vision Syndrome. Curing it is easy. Remove the computer and the problem is solved. Unfortunately, life isn’t that simple.
For many, the business of making a living is tied to long hours of computer use, and it doesn’t stop there. Staying in touch with friends and family, transacting personal business, and keeping up with the news could all mean even more screen time over and above the time they spend looking at screens during a standard work day.
The average Australian, regardless of occupation, spends 5.5 hours a day in front of a screen – and that’s enough time to place them at risk of CVS. Additional factors contribute: workplace ergonomics can be an issue, as can age (users over 40 are more prone to CVS), or the presence of pre-existing vision problems.
The symptoms of CVS include tired, sore eyes, headaches, dry eyes, blurred vision, double vision, sensitivity to glare, twitching eyes, and neck and shoulder pain. They’re all linked to the demands that is unconsciously place on the eyes when viewing screens for long periods.
Evidence shows that people blink less than they ought to when looking at screens. The muscles of the eye are also forced to concentrate on the nearby screen for extended periods instead of frequently working to change focus from near to far to mid-distance as they would in the natural context for which they were evolved. Glare, particularly blue light glare, is also a factor, as well as the rapid flickering of screens owing to their redraw and refresh process. Then there are pixels – the blurring of edges they cause may seem imperceptible, but the eyes do pick it up and have to work hard to compensate for it.
Add existing vision issues, glasses that aren’t well-designed to work at screen viewing distance, poor posture, and environmental issues like incorrect lighting or airflows that dry out the eyes into the equation and people have a challenge that their eyes simply can’t cope with comfortably. And although Computer Vision Syndrome symptoms are reversible, many experts are concerned that it may be linked to the worldwide increase in myopia (short-sightedness).
How Behavioural Optometry Helps
With so many factors playing a role in causing Computer Vision Syndrome, individual assessments and interventions are often required, but there are a few basics we can try observing on our own, says Jacqueline.
“The 20-20-20 rule is worth trying. After 20 minutes of screentime, spend 20 minutes looking at something 20 feet away. You should also be aware of blinking, and blink often. It can be hard to develop these habits, but they will help in reducing strain on the eyes. Computer monitors should be 40 to 50 centimetres away from your eyes and you should be looking downward slightly when viewing them. Lightning shouldn’t be directly overhead, behind, or in front of you or too bright. Good posture also helps.”
However, these habits, good as they are, might not be enough to solve the problem. “People may need computer glasses,” says Jacqueline. “They should be made for the screen viewing distance and they may be tinted to counteract blue light. And when eye muscles are severely strained, eye exercises can make a big difference in relieving the symptoms of eye strain.”
“There’s no single solution because everyone’s eyes are different. A behavioural optometrist would be able to evaluate both eyesight and the way in which eyes are used, and both could be important in developing a program to combat Computer Vision Syndrome.”
For more information on vision therapy and how it works, or to book an appointment, visit the Smart Vision website: Optometrists Sydney: Optometry Services For Children and Adults | Smart Vision; for specific information about Myopia treatment and prevention visit Myopia Prevention: Solutions, Control And Treatment In Sydney; and for detailed information about Myopia Treatment visit Orthokeratology In Sydney: The Non Surgical Alternative.
To book an appointment for a thorough eye check-up, click here or Call the Bondi clinic on (02) 9365 5047 or the Mosman clinic on (02) 9969 1600.