Thursday, January 28, 2010

Internet or "Squinternet"?

Has the internet become the "squinternet"?

What I mean by this is that usage of the computer for hours at a time to access the internet, do social networking, surf, etc. has placed tremendous demands upon our eyes. This has caused a great deal of problems for those that participate. The various issues that patients confront can vary from eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, double vision, neck ache, as well as pain to the wrists and forearms, numbness etc.

The way we often react with our eyes to difficulty in focusing or eyestrain is by squinting. Hence, the "squinternet".

So how do we best deal with these issues? Here are some suggestions:

1. Without being self serving the first thing I recommend is that you see your eye doctor and get an eye exam. Make sure that your prescription is correct for you and that it best represents what you specifically need to be able to focus on the computer screen. This may sound simple but it can be complicated. Your screen is at one distance and the keyboard is at another. You may be using different computers at work and at home. The distance for you to focus on a lap top is different from a desk top. All of these issues can affect how you focus and how you use your eyes when on the computer. Some patients need different pairs of glasses depending upon where they are working at the time. Some patients only need simple reading glasses. Your doctor will be able to determine the best approach for you. When you go in for your appointment it is very helpful if you can bring in data that accurately describes how far you sit from the various screens that you are working on. Assume your normal position in front of the screen and have someone measure the distance from the screen to your eye and the distance from the keyboard to your eye. This will help the doctor to best prescribe for you. New lens products have been recently introduced that provide tremendous help for computer users. There is a new progressive multifocal available that has in the center of the lens a large area designed to focus on the screen distance. In the top of the lens is a smaller distance viewing area and in the bottom of the lens is more magnification for small text. This allow the computer user to have a large "sweet spot" for their computer viewing and also see distances as well as up close for text viewing. There are also greatly improved glare free coating that allow more light to get into the eyes.

2. Glare can be a big problem for computer users. It is best to have your computer in an area where you will not have an open window in front of you as you view the screen. It would be better to position the screen, if you can, with the window behind you or off to the side. If you cannot accomplish this you can use blinds or drapes to cover the window. Many patients are bothered by overhead glare from overhead light sources. In the case of flourescent lighting, it can be helpful to remove some to the "tubes" to cut down on the amount of light upon the screen. It can also be helpful to wear a hat or visor to cut down on the glare from above. If reflections from the screen are an issue, make sure that the screen is as clean as possible. The new flat screens are a big improvement. It is also possible to make a "bonnet" for the screen itself. Take a piece of cardboard and cut it so it will fit over the computer screen and extend out five or six inches. You can tape it to the back of the screen with duct tape. This will get that overhead glare off of the front of the screen.

3. Sit at a distance that allows you to see the screen without leaning forward. If you lean in this will take a toll on your neck and back. Make sure that your chair has good back support. Pillows are available to give you better lumbar supprot. In an ideal situation, the screen is supposed to be slightly below eye level. If you can make this happen this is great. If you cannot, make sure you discuss the positioning of the screen with your eye doctor.

4. Sometimes, the difficulty a patient has with their vision is not just focusing but has to do with the ability of the eyes to point together at the screen distance for an extended period of time. If a patient has difficulty in this area, exercises can be prescribed to strengthen the eye muscles that allow us to point our eyes at the appropriate distance. Exercises can also help relax the eyes and strengthen them to help with focusing between distance and near. Eye doctors talk about the 20/20/20 rule. This pertains to taking the time to relax your eyes regularly by looking away from the screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds and blinking 20 times. This accomplishes several things: Looking away stretches the muscles in the eyes allowing them to relax after looking up close for a long period of time. Physically, it allows the computer user to get back from the screen and to also relax the neck muscles, shoulder muscles, etc. Blinking rewets the tissues of the eyes and makes eyes more comfotable.

5. Dryness of the eyes is a common complaint among patients using the computer. Following the 20/20/20 rule above will help. Here are some other suggestions: Drink enough water. Blink more in general: To accomplish this take a "post it" and write the word blink on it. Stick it on the computer near the top. When you see this during the day make sure that the blink you make is a full blink. Research has shown that our blink rate goes way down on the as much as two thirds. This contributes to dryness, burning and general visual discomfort. Blinking more really helps. It is also helpful to have some wetting drops by the work station. Not all wetting drops are the same. Your eye doctor will make a recommendation for the drops that best suit your particular needs. In general, the best drops are those that are non-preserved. They are a little more expensive, but the preservatives that are in over the counter eyedrops can cause problems and irritation that can be avoided by using the non-preserved variety. Severe dryness problems require more attention and a more complicatead solution than can be provided by eyedrops. Your eye doctor will be able to help you if your are still experiencing dryness even when using eyedrops or in spite of having tried the above suggestion.

I hope these suggestions have been helpful. Please visit your eye doctor for a thorough evaluation of your computer vision needs and keep the internet from becoming the "squinternet".

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