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What Is Computer Vision Syndrome

Electronic devices are a part of life now, and we use them in both our professional and personal lives on a near constant basis. Unfortunately, staring at a screen for long periods of time can lead to Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS. The Vision Council had completed a study in 2015 that showed that 65% of adults in this country now experience the symptoms of CVS.

What Is Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)?

CVS can affect anybody who spends a lot of time staring at a screen. Fortunately, there is no evidence currently that would suggest CVS can lead to any type of permanent damage. However, what is known is that it is a very uncomfortable condition that have the potential to reduce someone’s productivity and overall quality of life. The following symptoms are associated with CVS:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Eye irritation
  • Backache
  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Dry eyes
  • Redness of the eyes

CVS is a wholly preventable condition, even for people who work and live in the way most of us do now: digitally. Essentially, CVS is a form of muscle strain, on the muscle of the eye. The problem is now so common that may workplaces are starting to pay closer attention to it and are trying to come up with better ways to have an ergonomic workplace that focuses not just on posture, but on vision as well.

CVS is generally caused not just by using computer screens too much, but also by the conditions surrounding it. Things that can exasperate the condition include:

  • Glare
  • Poor ambient lighting (generally too bright)
  • Poor posture when seated or standing
  • Improper distance between the eyes and the screen, as well as improper angle
  • The wrong prescription for corrective vision

There are also a number of biological factors that can make the condition worse, including:

  • Astigmatism
  • Farsightedness
  • Presbyopia
  • Aging

CVS is temporary and relief can be found by simply resting and relaxing the eyes, and giving them a bit of TLC. However, it is also preventable, and people should make a concerted effort to protect their own eyes. Simple steps can be followed in order to suffer less from the condition.

Causes of CVS

When you stare at a screen, the eye has to work very hard to give you proper vision. This means that your muscles will suffer. However, there are many things that we do in our life to make it worse. These include:

  • Not having our eyes checked regularly, which means we have incorrect prescriptions for our glasses or contact lenses.
  • Believing staring at a screen is the same as staring at a printed page.
  • Wearing contact lenses.
  • Not blinking enough.

Diagnosis of CVS

A full eye examination should be able to reveal whether or not you are suffering from CVS. If you do work behind a screen, it is recommended that you have your eyes checked once per year, instead of every other year. Do tell your optician that you are involved with screen work, so that they know what to look for. They will then test your vision and also look at a number of specific factors, including:

  1. Your personal history – you may have some issues with your general health, work in environments that are bad for your eyes, take medication, or have any other elements in your life that can affect our vision.
  2. How accurate your vision is, which will determine whether you may need a prescription.
  3. What your refraction is, which will enable the optician to find out what lens power you need in order to compensate for your astigmatism, farsightedness, or nearsightedness.
  4. An examination of your eyes, in which they will look at how your eyes work, move, and focus together.

Some of these tests may need you to have eye drops placed on your eyes. These drops can stop your eyes from focusing. It may be, therefore, that you cannot wear contact lenses for your appointment, and that you may not be able to drive home straight after. All these tests will ensure your optician or ophthalmologist is able to determine whether there is something wrong with your vision, and whether you need any treatment.

CVS Treatment

Treatment for CVS varies. Usually, you will be shown a number of ways to rest and relax your eyes, as well as methods to prevent CVS from happening again. The table below highlights some of the possible treatment methods available to you.

Treatment Method Details
Eye care You need to look after your eyes properly. This means:

  • You may need prescription glasses or contacts.
  • You may need lenses that are suitable specifically for computer use.
  • You may need vision therapy to help you focus or better coordinate your eyes. This is known as visual training.
Computer viewing Most CVS are because of poor ambient conditions and poor computer viewing. As such:

  • Your screen should be about 20 to 24 inches away from your eyes, and at a 15 to 20 degree angle lower than your eyes.
  • Reference materials should be placed on document holders alongside your monitor.
  • Windows should be alongside computer screens, not behind or in front. Blinds should be drawn.
  • Overhead lighting should be of low wattage.
  • Anti-glare technology should be installed on screens.
  • LCD screens are a must.
  • You should have a comfortable, well-positioned chair.
  • You should take proper rest breaks.
  • You should force yourself to blink often.

How to Avoid CVS

Unfortunately, most of us know very well that we shouldn’t stare at screens all the time, but there is very little we can do about it. We conduct our social life on our mobile devices, and we have to work behind a computer at least 40 hours per week. This is unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things we can do to at least look after our eyes a little bit. In fact, you only need to do six simple things:

  1. Blink often. We seem to forget to blink when we’re staring at a screen. On average, the eye blinks about 10 to 15 times per minute. This is reduced to around four times when we are getting tired, just before we fall asleep. It may come as a surprise that, when you are staring at a screen, you will only blink around four times per minute. Stick a post-it on your screen that says: “Blink!!!” to remind yourself.
  2. Use the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, you need to drag your eyes away from your screen and look at something at a 20 foot distance for 20 seconds. It will give your eyes the chance to refocus and relax a bit.
  3. Turn your overhead lighting down. It creates far too much glare. As an added benefit, if you turn the overheads down, you will look better as well, as that type of light really isn’t flattering (ever wondered why you don’t look your best in changing room mirrors?).
  4. Put your monitor in the right place, as described above.
  5. Wear the right glasses and consider having lenses specifically for computer usage.
  6. Get your eyes checked regularly and follow the tips you are given by your ophthalmologist or optician.

A Few Interesting Statistics on CVS

People continue to believe that CVS is something that won’t happen to them. Plus, since there is no evidence it causes lasting damage, they don’t really do anything about it. After all, the boss expects productive little workers, and those Facebook notifications on your smartphone are piling up. However, maybe these statistics will make you think a little bit more about your ‘windows to the soul’, and how you need to treat them properly:

  • Every year, more than 10 million people visit an ophthalmologist because they experience symptoms relating to CVS.
  • If you, like most people, use a computer screen for at least two hours a day, the chance of you developing CVS is 90%.
  • You may feel that you can’t do anything about working with a computer because that is part of your job, but CVS reduces your overall productivity by more than 20%. Taking a 20 second break every 20 minutes (remember the 20-20-20) will boost your overall productivity.
  • The first complaint you will notice is computer eye strain, which is an uncomfortable condition.
  • Every year, you will spend an average of 1,548 hours using a computer, which is six hours per day. That does not take into account the time you spend looking at your digital devices.
  • Every ophthalmologist in this country takes on an average of 16 new patients per month because of CVS.

The table below highlights the effects of CVS.

Complaint Percentage of People Who Experience It
Eye fatigue and/or tired eyes 64.95%
Eye strain 48.83%
Headaches 45.68%
Pain in the shoulder and/or neck 44%
Eye irritation 37.5%
Burning and itching of the eyes 34.48%
Pain in the back 34.38%
Blurry or double vision 30.48%
General tiredness and fatigue 25.58%
Tension 25.16%
Pain in the arm, wrist, and/or shoulder 25%
Excessive tearing 14.78%

Many of these symptoms are also associated with Dry Eye Syndrome (DES). Scientists are now looking into whether CVS plays a role in the development of DES, whereby the eyes either produce insufficient tears, or the tears are of a poor quality. DES is a chronic, very uncomfortable condition that leaves the eyes feeling permanently dry, sore, and irritated. Looking after your eyes properly, clearly, is incredibly important.

Resources and References:

Computer Vision Syndrome – Information on eye problems caused by using a computer. (Penn Medicine)

Digital Eye Strain Report 2016 – Eye strain caused by using a computer. (The Vision Council)