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Web sites for sore eyes

Dry eyes, headaches and blurred images are nothing new to students who have ever stayed awake all night to finish a report. However, those who experience these symptoms regularly could be surprised to find that they often result from hours of uninterrupted computer use.

According to Bruce Anderson, an optometrist at USF’s Contact Lens and Low Vision Clinic, working on a computer for several hours at a time can trigger a condition called computer eye syndrome, also known as computer vision syndrome.

A combination of factors, such as users’ ages and the amount of pressure they must put on their eyes in order to focus on the screen can contribute to the condition which generally affects people who spend an extended length of time in front of a computer each day.

“This is really kind of like working out,” he said. “In a sense, what you’re doing is giving your eyes too much of a workout.”

According to Anderson, people blink less frequently when they look into computer screens than they do when they are not working on computers. This decrease in blinking dries out the eyes, resulting in dry spots. In turn, these spots lead to blurred vision, which can cause headaches and eyestrain.

People who experience these symptoms should be aware that there are small steps they can take to curb the effects of this condition. For example, Anderson recommends that people not sit too close to their monitors if they plan to work on a computer for a long time.

Remembering to take breaks, using eye drops and working in areas with plenty of light can help alleviate the symptoms of computer eye syndrome as well. Making sure the computer screen isn’t too high or too low can help reduce eyestrain.

Anderson said he sometimes prescribes computer glasses for people who still show symptoms of the condition after taking steps to reduce the effects. These glasses can make it easier for the eyes to focus on the monitor, reducing eyestrain.

“Probably about half the people I see have computer glasses,” he said.J.A. Llewellyn, the director of Academic Computing, said even perusing the Internet can have adverse affects on people.

“Problems arise because people don’t do a good job of designing their Web sites,” he said.

Llewellyn said color combinations and small fonts can also cause eyestrain. People often are unaware of the added stress these types of sites put on their eyes.

With the advent of flat-screen monitors, desktop computer screens are now farther away from people’s faces than they were several years ago. Llewellyn said these monitors inadvertently cause people to strain their eyes in order to focus on text and small graphics.

He said computers can cause problems other than those associated with vision. For instance, keyboards can aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition affecting one’s wrists and hands. Slouching, because the monitor is too high or low, can cause back pain and headaches. Some people may feel pain under their thighs, because they are sitting in a chair that is too high or too low.

While mild discomfort usually causes only minor aches, these problems can contribute to major health problems in the long run. Students can prevent some of these problems by adjusting seat elevation and practicing proper posture while working on the computer.

“You have to sit down and say, ‘Am I really comfortable?'” Llewellyn said.