It is no great surprise that staring at a computer screen for more than a few hours every day will have a negative impact on our overall eye health. When patients who fall into this category come to visit us, their prescription requirements and complaints are often predictable, and commonly fall into a familiar collective complaint we loosely term:
COMPUTER VISION SYNDROME
Do your eyes get tired staring at a computer screen all day - you may be suffering from this right now. If so, close your eyes for twenty seconds, (counting slowly) and then reopen them... feel better? Here is what a US. research group says on the matter:
Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is the complex of eye and vision problems related to near work which are experienced during or related to computer use. CVS is characterized by visual symptoms which result from interaction with a computer display or its environment. In most cases, symptoms occur because the visual demands of the task exceed the visual abilities of the individual to comfortably perform the task. Vision problems develop and occur frequently among video display terminal (VDT) workers.
It is quite usual for health related complaints among workers at VDTs to be visually related. However, in the USA more public and professional attention is being directed towards the avoidance of musculoskeletal disorders such as wrist problems (e.g., Carpal Tunnel Syndrome), bursitis, muscle strains (e.g., neck tension syndrome), tendon disorders (e.g., de Quervain's disease), and tenosynovitis (e.g., trigger finger) among others. These disorders are generally classified as Cumulative Trauma Disorders (CTD) or as Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI).
VDT related vision problems are at least as significant a health concern as the postural disorders. Most U.S. studies on the subject indicate that visual symptoms occur in 50-90% of VDT workers, while a study released by the American National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health showed that 22% of VDT workers have musculoskeletal disorders. A survey of optometrists indicated that (in the USA) 10 million primary eye care examinations are provided annually in that country primarily because of visual problems at VDTs - not a small public health issue. Vision problems are pervasive among computer workers and are the source of worker discomfort and decreased work performance.
In New Zealand it is generally agreed that high computer use is a significant contributing factor to at least 30% of all presenting cases of eye strain.
On whether computer screens have simply replaced books, and reading in dim light is a statistic influencing trend, time may offer further insight. Of particular concern is (of course) our children, who will be the first generation completely saturated with computer screens as an integral part of everyday life. Whether this move towards technology greatly influences the eyesight of the next generations may again be something only time and hindsight are able to tell us.