For those of us spending more and more time gazing at a computer screen, it's proving to be --literally -- a pain in the neck. And in the head. And the eyes.
The symptoms of eye strain -- blurred vision, neck and shoulder pain, headaches, dry eyes -- affect up to 90 percent of workers who spend hours a day peering at a computer, says the American Optometric Association.
For older adults, in particular, the problems are compounded by presbyopia (the condition that makes us need reading glasses as our eyes age), plus a greater need for more lighting, less glare, and a different viewing distance between the monitor and our eyes compared to younger workers, say vision experts.
A 2008 study by Florida State University researchers found that poor lighting and screen glare contributed significantly to eye strain for older workers. Studies also show that workers over 50 need "twice the light levels of younger workers for comfortable work," the optometric association said.
Older workers who try to make do with bifocals, trifocals or reading glasses may only increase eye strain symptoms, the Florida researchers said, especially if they need to scan back and forth between printed material and the computer screen, or between multiple monitors.
The problem is, computer monitors are at an intermediate distance. Reading glasses are for closer focusing, while regular glasses are for longer distances. Prescription computer glasses help the eyes focus on that middle area.
Gary Heiting, an optometrist and associate editor of AllAboutVision.com, a consumer information site, said people should "resist the temptation to buy over-the-counter reading glasses for use as computer glasses," he told the New York Times.
"During computer use," said Heiting, "our eyes have to stay focused for long periods of time." The glasses people use for driving or the ones they use for reading books often have the wrong focal point for computer use or are ill-suited for computer use.
Plus, we blink less often while staring at a computer, which leads to dry eyes.
Heiting recommends either single-vision computer glasses, or bifocal computer glasses with the top part of the glasses for seeing the computer screen and the bottom part for reading printed material or using the cell phone.
A 2002 Ohio State University study also found that computer glasses can help older workers with presbyopia reduce eye strain.
Nearly all the subjects in the study reported that computer glasses were "significantly more effective at reducing the frequency and severity of eye strain symptoms," when compared to improving workspace lighting conditions, but continuing to use their regular glasses.
Here are some additional things you can do to decrease eye strain, according to the Mayo Clinic:
*Increase the print size on the screen and follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take your eyes off your computer and look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This flexs your eye muscles and lets them relax. If possible, stand up once every hour and move around, or lean back and close your eyes for a minute or so.
*Use artificial teardrops. Over-the-counter artificial tears eyedrops can help prevent and relieve dry eyes that result from prolonged sessions at the computer. Lubricating drops that don't contain preservatives can be used as often as you need; if they do contain preservatives, don't use them more than four times a day. Avoid eyedrops with a redness remover -- they can worsen dry eye symptoms.
*Massage your eyelids and muscles over your brow, temple and upper cheek once or twice daily. Do this with clean hands and fingers or using a warm towel over closed eyes. Gently massage your upper and lower eyelid and the muscles around your eyes. This helps relax muscles and stimulate tear ducts.
In other health news:
Active seniors live longer than sedentary ones. A new study provides more evidence that physically active seniors may have a better overall health outlook, Reuters reports. Out of 893 adults in their late 70s to 80s, researchers found that the most active seniors had a lower risk of dying over a four-year period compared to those who moved the least.
Blueberries and apples tied to lower diabetes risk. Reuters reports that eating more blueberries, apples and pears may be linked to a lower risk of diabetes, according to a new Harvard study. Researchers found that blueberry-lovers (two or more servings a week) had a 23 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who ate no blueberries. Eating five or more apples a week also reduced risk by 23 percent.
Half of stroke victims don't call 911. Only about half of Americans with stroke symptoms call 911, a rate that hasn't changed since the mid-1990s, a new study finds. Researchers with New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center say this highlights the need for more public education about the importance of immediate treatment to minimize brain damage from strokes.
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