Hazards of modern life

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Having eye problems is nothing new, and in some ways we’re much better off than our parents and grandparents were. But there are some aspects of today’s technology and 21st century living that require a new approach.


Everyone knows that long periods of computer work increase your risk of muscle and joint pain, but the effects on eye health from time spent peering at your computer are not so obvious. As well as using computers at work, 73 per cent of Australians have a home computer. Eyestrain from using your computer can be uncomfortable enough to decrease the amount of time you are able to work in front of a monitor. Fortunately, computer use probably won’t cause any long-term eye problems.

Correct distance
Focusing your eyes at the same distance puts a strain on your eye muscles and causes fatigue. Computers are here to stay, so until future technological advances with eye-friendly monitors and laptops, you should take steps to minimise the risks to your eyes with good work habits.

Adjust your monitor: it should be 60cm directly in front of you, so that the screen is about arm's length from your eyes (increase the font size if necessary).

Lighting and glare
Bright lighting, illuminated computer screens and glare make it difficult to see your screen and cause eyestrain, blurred vision, difficulty focusing on objects in the distance, and headaches. Adjust the contrast and brightness to suit you and keep dust off your screen as it cuts down on contrast and can cause glare and reflection problems.

Take eye breaks
Give your eyes a rest by forcing them to focus on something other than your screen. The University of Canberra Health and Safety site has simple eye exercises to relieve eyestrain from computer use.

Website: www.canberra.edu.au/hr/health-safety/ergonomics/eye-exercises

Blinking produces tears that moisten and lubricate your eyes. You blink less often when working at a computer, with the result that long computer use causes dry eyes. Blink often to refresh the moisture in your eyes. You can use over-the-counter eye drops on the advice of your pharmacist or optometrist.

Check your glasses and contact lenses
They may need to be adjusted for computer work or you might want to buy glasses specifically for use with your computer.

If you do spend a lot of time each day at your computer, have regular eye exams to check that blurring, headaches and any other eye problems aren’t caused by a more serious condition.

Common signs of eyestrain from computer use

  • Sore, tired, burning or itching eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Headache
  • Difficulty shifting focus between monitor and paper documents on your desk
  • Afterimages when you look away from the monitor
  • Increased sensitivity to light.

The sun

Australia has some of the highest skin cancer rates in the world: medical researchers are showing that ultraviolet (UV) light can also damage our eyes and that Australians, in particular, should protect their eyes from harm from both short-term and long-term exposure to UV.

While everyone risks eye damage from UV radiation, the risk is greater if you work outside or spend a lot of time surfing, swimming or skiing. UV radiation is most damaging to young children whose eyes are still developing: sun protection should become part of your child’s daily routine so that the healthy habit is carried into later life.

Ultraviolet light
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is made up of invisible high energy rays from the sun, two of which are UVA and UVB, responsible for sunburn, skin cancer, eye damage and ageing of the skin. UVB is more damaging to the eye, but the best eye protection should screen out both types of UV radiation.

The accumulated damage of UV light over a long period can cause age-related macular degeneration and a number of serious eye disorders including cataract (cloudiness of your lens), pterygium (a fleshy growth on the cornea), cancer of the skin around the eye, and photokeratitis (sunburn of the cornea or snow blindness).

Short-term exposure can lead to pain, irritation and sensitivity to light.

Note: never look directly into the sun, even with sunglasses on, as the intensity of the light can damage your eyes.

You are susceptible to eye damage from UV radiation from above and by reflection from the ground, especially from surfaces such as water, snow and sand. The risk is greatest in the middle of the day from 10am to 3pm during the summer months.

UV levels increase as you get closer to the equator and at high altitudes, so good eye protection for skiing is as important as at the beach. There are also some medicines which make you more sensitive to UV radiation: follow your doctor’s instructions not to go in sunlight while on certain medication and wear sunglasses which absorb 100 per cent of UV.

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