Between our computer at work, to our tablet device at home, and our mobile phone, well, everywhere, we are spending increasing amounts of time looking at screens. Recent research has shown that this could be effecting our eye health in more ways than one, and optometrists have been noticing more and more cases of what they are now dubbing Computer Vision Syndrome. We spoke to Optometrist Dr Jim Kokkinakis from The Eye Practice about the causes, symptoms, and
RESCU: Can you tell us a little about what CVS is and who it is effecting?
Dr Jim Kokkinakis: Computer Vision Syndrome is a combination of a number of separate entities that combine together to cause discomfort via a number of symptoms. The best way to think of CVS is to compare it to a repetitive strain injury. The classic profile of a CVS sufferer is a person that looks or works from a digital device for many hours of each day. This includes desk top screens, tablets and smart phones.
In the last few years I have noticed a steadily increasing number of people seeking care for this condition. Age is irrelevant, however our children in particular seem to be affected the most due to the demands they are placing on their eyes, which are not fully developed. This has the potential to create a tsunami of eye and postural problems in years to come.
RESCU: What are some of the common symptoms?
Dr Jim Kokkinakis: The common symptoms associated with CVS are:
Fluctuating and blurry vision
Headaches and migraine
Overall body fatigue
Decreased concentration and productivity in the work place
Decreased night vision
Dry, Burning eyes
Pins and needles in arms and legs
Lower back ache
RESCU: How can we stop ourselves from developing CVS?
Dr Jim Kokkinakis: This is easier said than done as it requires discipline and quite a few steps!
The source of the problem starts at our digital devices. A rule of thumb would be viewing something further than closer, causes less visual stress. I would suggest you do NOT spend many hours looking at an smart phone in particular but also a tablet and if significant time is likely to be needed use a laptop and even better is at least a 24 inch computer screen at no closer than 70cm.
The computer screen needs to have the following characteristics:
- Flicker Free – most computer screens and other digital devices use backlight LED technology which has excessive blue light and flicker – these are known to cause eye problems
- Be able to adjust the screen backlight into a “reading mode’ which reduces the blue LED light.
- Do not use the smallest fonts as this requires significant muscular demand to focus which in turn creates eye strain.
- The screen needs to be below eye level as it is unnatural to read at a close distance even at eye level.
When you combine Flicker free technology, with “reading mode” and larger fonts and have the screen a minimum distance of 70cm below eye level you have set up your computer screen as best as you can to avoid CVS.
It’s also important to note that your chair and posture need to be ergonomically correct – trying to summarise this we need lower back support to minimise slouching, the chair high enough to get the computer screen below eye level yet have our feet supported on the ground.
Every 20 minutes we need to physically stand up, do some basic stretching exercises, look into the distance, while consciously blinking to stop any dry eye problems. Over an hour at least 10 minutes in total looking into the distance and standing resets you body to be able to run the whole distance of a hard day on the computer.
RESCU: If we’re using eye drops to alleviate symptoms, what kind should we be looking out for?
Dr Jim Kokkinakis: Do NOT use drops that “get the red out”. These drops are addictive and have preservatives which can cause worsening of symptoms.
Any eye drops you use that you can purchase over the counter should be NON-preserved. These typically come in individual ampules and NOT in bottles.
There are eye sprays that are NOT preserved and are perfect for use to lubricate eyes when doing many hours on a computer screen.
RESCU: Do you have any advice when it comes to computer glasses?
Dr Jim Kokkinakis:Finally a comprehensive eye examination combined with an appropriate pair of spectacles designed specifically for computer use will reduce the muscular fatigue that our eye muscles are exposed to.
When it comes to computer glasses there is a myth that says “don’t wear the glasses, because your eyes will become lazy and things will only get worse”. This is just NOT true. Eyes were never designed to look at computer screens all day and relieving the muscular tension of the eyes will also reduce the symptoms of CVS.
RESCU: And what steps can we take to ensure our kids don’t develop CVS?
Dr Jim Kokkinakis: This topic is very close to my heart as I have four children that are just like everyone else. They love their smart phone, their text books are on tablets and they are obsessed with social media. Parents myself included let their kids use digital devices as it keeps them quiet in a corner somewhere. They need outdoor activity to not only reduce this epidemic of CVS but also our obesity epidemic.
Children are particularly susceptible to an eye condition called myopia (or short-sightedness). Excessive indoor activity combined with viewing digital devices is associated with this problem. Apart form eventually becoming 100% dependent on glasses to see in the distance with, myopia is also associated with glaucoma and retinal detachment, which are both quite serious eye diseases. Myopia is definitely increasing in prevalence with around a 100% increase over the last 20 years in our children to young adults. It remains to be seen whether this environmentally produced myopia will also increase the prevalence of glaucoma and retinal detachment. I would rather not find out.
Encouraging your children to use flicker free screens on reading mode, steering away from hand held devices and promoting as much outdoor exercise as possible is the best recipe to minimise the impact of this epidemic. I’ve been commissioned to work with computer monitor manufacturer BenQ, who are leading the charge in incorporating ‘eyegonomics’ into their range of monitors – that is they’re eliminating the flicker and reducing blue light to make their monitors easier on our eyes.
RESCU: If we suspect we’ve already been seriously effected by CVS, are we able to reverse symptoms? If so, how?
Dr Jim Kokkinakis:Reversing the symptoms of CVS will occur every time if we are diligent with the previous advice. For those in the work place that are very serious affected, it sometimes requires at least a couple of weeks off and preferably taking a holiday somewhere that there will be minimal reading done. One of the busiest times I have as an optometrist in the CBD of Sydney is in February when all the office workers come back from a long break. Within the first few weeks of getting back to work CVS strikes them like a lightning bolt! This is because they jump straight back into all their bad habits and their whole visual system goes into shut down due the excessive fatigue that they have again suddenly encountered.
After a long break from the computer you will come back refreshed and feeling great. By immediately implementing all the suggestions in point 3. suppressing CVS is easily achievable.
RESCU: Who can we talk to about CVS and our eye health?
Dr Jim Kokkinakis: Anyone with CVS symptoms needs to see an optometrist with a special interest on this topic. Prescribing a pair of glasses just for clearer distance vision is NOT the answer. Careful consideration of your work environment, upgrading your computer screen to a flicker-free model and prescribing accurately specifically for the computer distance will lead to successfully relieving this most frustrating condition.
Dr Kokkinakis is working with BenQ as an ambassador to educate people that there are healthier monitors for your eyes – not all monitors are made equal!