Computers And Our Eyes.

By Dr. Michael Roth

How our lives have changed over the past 40 years. The use of digital technology and computers have had a profound impact on the pace and quality of our lives. From plane and hotel reservations, online shopping, digital phones, and messaging, office record keeping, credit cards, credit applications, our cars, appliances, TVs and video games to mention a few, have influenced our lives and forever altered the way we go about our daily lives.

For us who use desktop computers or laptops on a daily basis, they have become an essential part of our lives. We communicate with family and friends, look up historical data, medical information, make appointments and work. Most of my patients spend hours on the computer and that includes children.

Patients often complain of visual fatigue; saying their eyes “smart”, feel dry and they have difficulty maintaining a clear image while doing computer work. And it is with this introduction that I would like to explain why you might be experiencing these symptoms and what you might be able to do to minimize eye strain.

Reading a book and reading from a computer are two entirely different visual tasks. We don’t think about our vision, we just know that we open our eyes and we can see. But there is a complicated neural process that occurs naturally when we read a book.

When we read a book, our eyes turn inward and down. This action stimulates our focusing ability and allows us to see the printed page clearly. Our upper lid lowers over the eye so that our eye exposure is reduced and our blink rate is about 7 blinks a minute. Blinking is important because our tears nourish and lubricate the front part of our eyes. Oil glands that are in the upper and lower lids pump a small amount of oil and mixes with our tear film. It is the oil that keeps the tear on our eyes.

When we look at a desktop, our eyes are more in the straight ahead position, so there is less stimulus to focus or make the print clear. Our upper lids are wide open so there is more exposure to the environment, which means greater evaporation of our tear film and our blink rate is about 3 blinks a minute. The result is that our exterior eye surface becomes very dry. When our corneas dry out for too long we may experience a sharp momentary pain or discomfort which forces us to blink. Over time, our corneas will become rough and irritated and our eyes will reflexly tear to try to maintain corneal integrity. These patients complain that their eyes are too wet yet it comes as a surprise when it is explained that it is actually a sign that their eyes are dry.

Other factors like our arid and dusty desert, medications (including antihistamines) and having more birthdays also add to our eyes being dry. When all of these factors are added to computer work it just exacerbates the problem.

So what do I suggest? First knowing what is the problem helps a lot. Ergonomically, try to look down on the screen and keyboard if possible. Use of an incandescent lamp will help reduce glare. Use computer glasses that are specific to your working distance.  Antireflective coatings and special tints are very helpful in reducing glare. New digital lenses for those who need reading and computer help can be specifically made for your work situation. These digital lenses are terrific and also eliminate the distortion that was so bothersome in the old lens designs when we were looking from side to side.

Take a short visual break from your computer every hour to give your eyes a chance to recover. Use of OCT artificial tears can be very helpful and I would suggest four times a day use. I prefer BLINK, Systane, Refresh, Thera-tears, and Optive because they have good viseo-elastic polymers and a mild preservative that tends not to irritate the cornea. Supplement your diet with 3000 IU Omega 3 or Flax seed and 1000 IU Vitamin C daily. They have been known to increase tear production.

We live in a desert but that does not mean we have to live within a desert. Using a humidifier in the bedroom would help and make sure that your filters are changed regularly. Removing the dust from the air means it is less likely to get in your eyes.

When you wash your face at night, keep the warm washcloth on your closed eyes lids for a couple of minutes to help stimulate the oil glands in your lids. Don’t go to bed as soon as you turn off the computer or TV; give it a few minutes to let your visual system and brain adjust.

But my number one suggestion is to have a complete vision examination where we will be able to do a thorough case history, detail your visual experiences and correlate your medicines, your health history and family health history. We will also determine what the best and proper lens prescription is for your general vision and any special visual needs you might have. We will also be able to check your entire visual health from the lids to the retina and rule out the presence of cataracts or visual threatening eye diseases like glaucoma, and macular degeneration and monitor, diagnose the effects of diabetes, hypertension and connective tissue disorders like arthritis, lupus, and sarcoid. When appropriate and with your permission, we will share our results with your family physician to coordinate appropriate care. Being proactive about your eyes will help us keep your vision at its best for the rest of your lives

I know that all of this can be confusing and if you have any questions, please don’t be afraid to ask. Our office is here to help you in all of your visual needs and we look forward to being of assistance in maintaining your visual health and well-being.