Answers by Mitchell Gossman, MD, an ophthalmologist at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota, located in St. Cloud
Question: Why do I have so much trouble with blurry vision and eyestrain with computers, and what can I do about it?
Computers and other electronic devices such as your cell phone can cause all kinds of problems with your eyes.
First, there’s the problem of presbyopia. This is the condition that causes you to need reading glasses or bifocals to see up close, generally starting in your 40s. There’s nothing unique about reading a cell phone or computer monitor as far as correcting this condition, except for the fact that sometimes the print can be very small, placing a high demand on your detailed vision. This can cause “eyestrain” and trouble identifying letters. It may be necessary to have a stronger bifocal or stronger reading glasses in order to read the finest of print.
Another problem with a computer that has to do with this is the fact that the bifocal is set at the bottom of the lens, which is fine if you’re reading a book on your desk or in your lap and look down to read, but what if the computer monitor is on a desktop, perhaps even on a pedestal? You will be forced to lift your chin way up to get the bifocal lined up on the elevated monitor. This can be fine intermittently, but if you do it for extended periods it will cause neck discomfort.
The solution to the computer near vision problems is to have a special pair of occupational glasses made. It is possible to measure the distance from your eyes to the computer and prescribe glasses where the entire lens, not just the small bifocal in the lower half, are set to the distance where your computer is. This way, you do not have to tip your head up to get the bifocal in alignment because the entire screen is in perfect focus instead of just the small bifocal area. This problem is even worse with progressive (no-line) bifocals where the reading zone is narrow. Another issue for older patients is that the bifocal may be OK for typical reading distance, but does not work well for the more arm’s length distance of a typical computer workspace.
What about prolonged use of a computer, is this harmful to the eyes? Not at all, but we do tend to have our eyes glued to the computer, phone or tablet for extended periods, and this can result in dry eye symptoms. When we do extended reading, we tend to blink less often, the tears therefore evaporate faster than they are being produced, and dryness of the eye’s surface results. This can cause discomfort, blurry vision, and can even trigger reflex tearing further blurring the vision, so you find yourself in the odd situation where the eyes are dry but also intermittently too wet. There’s nothing specifically harmful about a computer screen, these issues can happen just reading a book or newspaper. What do you do about it? The first thing to try is artificial tears to keep the eye’s surface moist when reading or using a computer. Even better, when you can identify the situation in advance, such as when first sitting at the computer, you can put in a drop before starting to prevent the problem before it happens. You may find artificial tears that call themselves specific for computer issues, but that’s a marketing gimmick, any brand that works well with your eyes will do.
If you continue to have these problems, or you want to explore the glasses solutions for computer use, schedule an appointment. It’s also possible that there’s a medical condition causing some of your problems that are better dealt with early.
Find out more
Mitchell Gossman, MD., and Andrea Joplin, MD., are ophthalmologists at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota in St. Cloud, and see patients from all over Central Minnesota and the St. Cloud area. They accept new patients, and appointments may be made at 320-774-3789.
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