When indoor humidity plunges to desert-dry levels in homes and offices during the winter heating season, the parched air can aggravate computer vision syndrome (CVS).
CVS is a new medical term for the eye and vision problems that occur as a side effect of computer use: Dry, irritated eyes, eyestrain, blurred vision, neck and shoulder pain, and other problems.
About 175 million people in the United States work and play on computers. Some estimates say that 70-75 percent experience CVS at some time. Symptoms often are vague, and many people never make the connection between a headache or neck pain, for instance, and staring at a computer monitor for hours on end.
Winter is a good time for a self-check on symptoms, and to take corrective action that can prevent CVS year round. If you re noticing dry eyes now, they may be occurring and contributing to CVS the rest of the year.
Computer use means dry, irritated eyes - the No. 1 CVS symptom - because people blink about two-thirds less when using a computer. Each blink brings a fresh supply of soothing tears, which lubricate the eye s surface. Computer users also open their eyes wider, exposing a bigger surface area for tears to evaporate.
Dry indoor slurps up that moisture, especially in buildings where forced-air heating systems may reduce humidity levels below the Sahara Desert s average 25 percent.
The simple, no-cost, year-round solution is to blink more often when using the computer for long periods. Some people actually attach a reminder note to the monitor. A humidifier is another option for winter, and lubricating eye drops, or “artificial tears,” may help year round.
A few other anti-CVS measures:
Take eye breaks. Glance away from the monitor often and focus on the wall, other objects in the room, or out a window.
Adjust the monitor. Brightness and contrast can be adjusted with control buttons on the monitor or via software. Check the monitor s instructions or the computer s “Help” feature.
Increase the monitor s “refresh” rate. That s the rate at which the monitor redraws or refreshes the screen image. A low refresh rate, like 60 Hz., can create a subtle image flicker that contributes to CVS. Check the computer s “Help” feature for instructions.
Position the monitor properly. That usually means directly in front of your face, about an arm s length away, and high enough so that your eyes are level with an imaginary line 2-3 inches below the top. There are exceptions, however, for people who wear bifocals or have large monitors. Find your own comfortable position.
Avoid glare. Annoying reflections from sunlight and room lighting can still be a problem even though newer monitors have a built-in anti-glare coating. Place the monitor so that windows are to the side of the monitor, not in front or behind it. A paper or cardboard strip, taped to the top of the monitor, can block glare from overhead lighting.