More and more people suffer from red eyes and headaches related to eye strain due to computers, cellular phones and television. In today’s modern society, it is estimated that up to 100 million workers are at risk of developing computer vision syndrome. According to a report published in “Medical Practice and Reviews,” professionals mostly at risk of developing this syndrome are accountants, architects, bankers, engineers, flight controllers, graphic designers, journalists, academics, secretaries and students.
What exactly is computer vision syndrome? In a nutshell; it refers to your eyes becoming blurry, tired, red, dry, itching and/or experiencing double-vision, due to spending too many hours on your computer. This, however, is not the only symptoms. Chronic headaches (tension headaches), lower back and neck pain and psychosocial stress, can also develop. Don’t be fooled by the list of professionals being affected the most; as the study did not include young children and adolescents, students and millions of other people, spending hours playing computer games, socializing, and so forth.
What are the causes of computer vision syndrome? Unlike printed words of books and newspapers, the electronic characters are made up of pixels that have blurred edges, which makes it difficult for the eyes to maintain focus. Unconsciously, the eyes try to rest by shifting their focus to an area behind the screen, but this constant switch between the computer screen and relaxation point, creates eyestrain and fatigue. Dry, irritated eyes also occur, because you blink your eyes about 12 – 15 times, instead of the normal 17 or more times per minute. Glare and inadequate lighting can also create problems. To minimize this, reposition your desk if there is too much natural light coming in; if need be dim the lights of your room or move your desk light; if your laptop doesn’t have a built-in antiglare screen, get one; and lastly, wearing glare-reducing or tinted lenses can help to minimize the glare.
Extremely important is to have your eyes tested every year; children especially as their eyes change as they age. Many, if not all, ophthalmologists suggest to adhere to the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break by looking at something that is 20 feet (6 meters) away. Better yet; get up from your desk, go outside (if possible), make yourself something to drink and stretch your legs. Looking at something outside without concentrating very hard can also help to relax your eyes. Another very important thing is to make sure you wear a good pair of sunglasses with UV-protection when you are outside.
Wearing contact lenses? Remember to take them out (even if you wear those that you can sleep with), because oxygen cannot penetrate the eyes if you wear contact lenses for long hours at a time. It is vital to give your eyes a rest and a break and let them “breathe;” so don’t wear your contact lenses for longer than necessary.
An interesting study suggests that, in the 80’s, 35% of Africans were near-sighted. Three decades later it rose to 56%. This has also been happening more and more worldwide. Genes do play a role, but a bigger role is sunlight! Spending longer hours indoors under artificial lights than outside in natural sunlight, does impact on your eyes’ health and, in children, in the development of their eyes. Researchers indicate that the outdoor sunlight help the child’s developing eyes to maintain the correct distance between the lens and the retina (important in keeping your vision in focus). When you add the “modern” world and you allow your children to spend hours on an iPad, cell phone and the like, their eyesight will deteriorate even faster!
Another factor to consider regarding children is the sports they play when they are young; especially contact sports. Eye injuries can be quite serious so best if they wear protecting gear around their eyes. Most importantly; teach children from a young age to “stay away from the head” when they play or fight. A blow against the head, on the side of the eyes, no matter how light, is very bad and dangerous.
So, how can you protect your eyes and help them to stay healthy? Diet and exercise; just like the rest of your body!
Beta-carotene is vital and found in yellow fruits and vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale and butternut). Vitamins C and E, together with zinc, also plays an important role.
Bioflavonoids can help to protect the eyes against cataracts and macular degeneration. Sources include tea, red wine, citrus fruits, bilberries, blueberries, cherries, legumes and soya produce.
Lutein and zeaxanthin, found in spinach, kale, turnip greens, collard greens and squash, can also help to prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.
Omega-3 is extremely important in preventing macular degeneration and dry eyes. Sources include oily fish like salmon, mackerel and herring, as well as grounded flaxseeds and walnuts.
Vitamin A, found in beef and chicken liver, eggs, butter and milk, are important to protect the eyes against dryness and night blindness.
Vitamin C, found in sweet peppers (especially the red peppers), kale, strawberries, broccoli, guavas, oranges, mangoes and cantaloupe, can help to fight against cataracts and macular degeneration.
Vitamin D, found in salmon, sardines, mackerel, milk and fortifies cereals and juices, can reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Sunlight, however, is still the best source of vitamin D. Spending 10 – 20 minutes in the sun, without sunscreen and not when the sun is at its hottest, will ensure that your body produces vitamin D.
Vitamin E, found in almonds, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts, may further reduce the risk of advanced AMD (especially when it is combined with carotenoids and vitamin C).
Zinc, found in oysters, beef, crab and turkey, aids vitamin A in the reduction of night blindness-risk and can play a role in reducing the risk of advanced macular degeneration.
A good supplement for eye health, that I use, is VisionVite (see photo). Our diets sometimes lack the necessary nutrients, minerals and vitamins needed, so this was recommended to me by my eye specialist.
Exercises for the eyes?! Yes!! The eye muscle needs to be exercised and stretched, just like you do the rest of your body. Here are a few:
Place your index finger on the tip of your nose and look at it. Slowly move it away from your nose until you only see 1 finger, then slowly bring it back to the nose. Repeat.
Draw circles by only using your eyes. First to the right, then to the left. Repeat.
Look up, down, to the left, to the right, only moving your eyes.
Look at something far away, then at something close by. Then blink and relax.
Another easy exercise to help relax the eyes is to squeeze your them together (think of it as giving them a hug!). Squeeze until you see colours or dots appear, then relax, keeping them closed, until it is black again.
Lastly; to relax your eyes, you can either place cucumber slices on them or a warm towel.
If not possible, then rub your hands together until there is heat in-between the palms of your hands. Now place your warm hands over the eyes, breathe deeply and just relax! The heat that was generated will penetrate the eyes and relax the eye muscle. Don’t believe me? Think of it this way – if you are very stiff, you go for a massage. Your eye muscle cannot be massaged, so the only way to help it to relax is to do this!!
In today’s modern society computers and the like are everywhere and used by everyone. Best we can do for our eyes is to give it all the nutrients it needs to function optimally, to go for yearly check-ups, to exercise our eyes just like we exercise our body, and to take breaks and rest without looking at a screen as often as possible! Remember you only have one set of eyes – so don’t skimp on taking care of them! Eyesight is a blessing!
By Ezette Viljoen (Health & Fitness)