What Your Computer is Doing to Your Eyes

Filed in The Healthy Writer by on September 2, 2014 • views: 9040

Young woman dripping eyes at homeIt’s not your imagination—your computer is hurting your eyes.

If you’ve been using more eye drops lately or wondering if you may have dry eye syndrome, it may have nothing to do with aging. According to a recent study, it could be that you’re just staring at the computer for too many hours a day. The problem is that without treatment, dry eyes can eventually lead to corneal ulcers and scarring.

What’s the solution? After all, thousands of people (including writers) make their living at the computer. Is there anything we can do?

Computer Use Linked with Dry Eye Syndrome

For the study, Japanese researchers studied the eyes of 96 volunteers—60 men and 36 women. All worked in jobs that involved using a computer. Each completed a questionnaire about how many hours they worked in front of a screen and what (if any) symptoms affected their eyes.

Researchers also collected tear samples, and measured the amount of mucin 5AC (MUC5AC)—one of a group of protective “mucins,” or lubricants, that exists in tears—in each sample. They then compared the questionnaires and the tear samples with the reported symptoms of eye problems.

Results showed the following:

  • Overall, those who stared at the computer screen for long hours were more likely to suffer from dry, burning eyes—and more likely to have reduced levels of MUC5AC in their tears.
  • Those who spent fewer than five hours a day looking at a computer screen had an average secretion of MUC5AC of 8.2 ng/mg.
  • People who worked at the computer for more than seven hours a day had an average of only 5.9 ng/mg MUC5AC secretion.

Why is MUC5AC so important? Researchers note that it’s a gel-forming mucin that helps keep eyes moist and comfortable. The less you have, the more likely you are to experience symptoms like dryness, burning, and itching.

“Patients who use these devices have more symptoms,” said Mina Massaro-Giordano, M.D., associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, “and if they have an underlying surface disease issue, it can be exacerbated with computer use.”

Computer Vision Syndrome

Though this was a small study, it’s only the latest in a string of those that indicate computers are bad for our eyes. It’s gotten to be such a thing that there’s term for it: Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).

According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), CVS is a “group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer use.” Common symptoms include the following:

  • Eyestrain
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurred vision; problems focusing
  • Dry, itchy, burning eyes
  • Grittiness
  • Soreness
  • Excess tearing
  • Headaches
  • Double vision
  • Neck and shoulder pain

Take Eye Problems Seriously

Most of us tend to shrug off eye problems. Put a few drops in and move on, right?

But dry eyes can cause other problems. These may include:

  • More frequent infections: Tears protect the eyes from bacteria. If you’re suffering from dryness, your eyes may be more vulnerable from attack from microorganisms.
  • Scarring: This is one of the main reasons why you want to be sure to treat your dry eyes. If they’re left dry for an extended amount of time, the may become inflamed, which can cause scarring on the cornea.
  • Depression: Huh? It’s true! Recent studies have found an association between dry eye syndrome and depression. A 2013 study, for example, found that those with dry eye syndrome were more likely to be depressed than those without dry eye disease. Researchers aren’t sure yet which comes first, or what causes the association, but it’s worth noting.
  • Difficulty working: Dry eyes make it more difficult to do the work we need to do at the computer, tablet, or smart phone.

10 Ways to Make Eyes More Comfortable

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make your eyes more comfortable while you’re working. Try the following tips, and take note—studies show those who wear contact lenses are more likely to have CVS than those who use glasses or who wear no corrective lenses at all. If you’re a contact-lens wearer, you may want to consider switching to glasses during office hours, or using your eye drops more often.

  1. Blink more often—we all tend to blink less when focusing on the screen, which dries out the eyes.
  2. Set a timer, and every 20 minutes, look away from the screen and focus on something at least 20 feet away.
  3. Position the monitor about 20 to 28 inches away from your face—we all tend to sit too close to the screen, which forces the eyes to work harder.
  4. Move the monitor down—the optimal position for your eyes is to have the top of the monitor level with your eyes, so you’re actually looking down onto it. This position lowers glare.
  5. Use a humidifier in drier climates—it will help keep your eyes moist.
  6. Stay away from the vents—if air is blowing on you from a vent or an air conditioner, try to move out of its way, or close/cover the vent.
  7. Use artificial tears—try over-the-counter eye drops that mimic your own tears. Keep them at the desk so you can use them as you need them.
  8. Check the lighting—bright, overhead lights make dry eyes worse. Turn off the fluorescents and use lamps instead. These are best positioned so they shine on the desk (not you) and come from the side. Move the computer when you notice glare from windows.
  9. Get an anti-glare screen—these are relatively inexpensive and could really save your eyes. Also check the settings on your screen. Make sure it’s not too bright. The brightness should be similar to the surrounding area. And remember you can always increase the size of your text or the document you’re viewing. When you can, print out material to review or edit.
  10. Talk to your eye doctor—if over-the-counter drops don’t work, your doctor may have prescription drops that will make your eyes more comfortable. You can also get “computer glasses” that are made just for working at the screen.

Do you suffer from dry eyes or CVS? Do you think your computer is to blame? How do you cope with it?

Yuichi Uchino, et al., “Alteration of Tear Mucin 5AC in Office Workers Using Visual Display Terminals: The Osaka Study,” JAMA Ophthalmol. 2014;132(8):985-992, http://archopht.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1878735.

Veronica Hackethal, MD, “Computer Use Linked to Dry Eye, Change in Tears,” Medscape, June 11, 2014, http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/826521.

Labbé A, et al., “Dry eye disease, dry eye symptoms and depression: the Beijing Eye Study,” Br J Ophthalmol. 2013 Nov;97(11):1399-403, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24013959.

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