Video Vision Prolonged Exposure to Computer Screens Can Cause Eye Problems, Unless Adjustments Are Made

By Jane E. Brody c. 1996, New York Times News Service | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 26, 1996 | Go to article overview

Video Vision Prolonged Exposure to Computer Screens Can Cause Eye Problems, Unless Adjustments Are Made


Jane E. Brody c. 1996, New York Times News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


IN DAYS gone by, children were often warned that reading in poor light or in awkward positions would "ruin" their eyes. Fortunately, problems rarely ensued. Not so among today's computer users; many experience preventable eye or vision problems.

With images on a computer screen fast supplanting the printed word, complaints about vision-related problems like eyestrain, blurry vision, headaches and neck aches are multiplying rapidly. Millions of people, from preschool ages on, who work or play the day away on video display terminals are suffering needlessly, experts say.

Although vision and eye problems have been overshadowed by carpal tunnel syndrome as a debilitating hazard of prolonged computer use, they are actually more common and should not be ignored. Virtually all can be corrected - and avoided - with proper adjustments in the work environment and the user's position in relation to the screen.

Although there is no evidence of permanent visual damage from the prolonged use of VDTs, even temporary impairments can be troublesome. The problems can occasionally be dangerous; for example, if computer use at work impairs distance vision, driving home could be hazardous.

First, the good news. Repeated tests have shown that video display terminals do not emit hazardous radiation - neither ultraviolet nor ionizing radiation - so even daily use for decades should not cause cataracts or retinal damage. Nor is there evidence that computer use causes permanent myopia, or nearsightedness, or speeds development of myopia any more than reading books might.

However, several surveys of people who work at video display terminals indicate that up to 75 percent experience one or more reversible vision or eye problems. The American Optometric Association has coined a name for the complaints: computer vision syndrome. Symptoms may include any or all of the following:

Temporary myopia, the inability to focus clearly on distant objects for a few minutes to a few hours after using the computer.

Eyestrain or eye fatigue, a tired, aching heaviness of the eyelids or forehead.

Blurred vision for near or far objects, and sometimes double vision or afterimages.

Dry, irritated or watery eyes.

Increased sensitivity to light.

Headaches, neck aches, backaches and muscle spasms from holding the body in awkward positions to maintain a desirable angle between eyes and screen.

Why should computer use cause such problems when reading a book or papers for hours on end rarely does? The American Academy of Ophthalmology and optometrists who study computer-related problems say several factors apply especially to computer use:

Poor position in relation to the computer.

Lighting that produces glare or reflections, fuzzy images or images that are too dim or even too bright.

Failure to blink often enough to moisten the surface of the eyes.

Use of corrective lenses that are inappropriate for the user's position and distance from the screen.

Minor visual defects that might go unnoticed if not exaggerated by i ntense computer use.

For example, Dr. Kent M. Daum, an optometrist at the University of Alabama School of Optometry in Birmingham, showed that minor and otherwise unnoticed refractive errors, astigmatisms or imbalances between the eyes can cause pronounced discomfort after as little as half an hour at the computer.

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