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Dry Eyes and Computer Vision Syndrome

Q: I did most of my Christmas shopping online this year and the extra computer time, on top of my desk job, has left my eyes irritated and red. Eye drops help, but the longer I use them, the more often I have to use them. I know it's possible to get addicted, and I think that's what's happened. How can I break the habit and get relief?

Dr. Donnica:
Computer eyestrain is such a common office-related health complaint that it even has a name: computer vision syndrome (CVS). There are several steps you can take to prevent and reduce CVS, but using eye drops isn't one of the recommendations. As you have seen, eye drops (especially those which contain antihistamines) may help initially, but prolonged use can lead to a rebound effect. The best way to break the habit of using these drops is to switch to plain, unmedicated eyewashes ("artificial tears").

Get an annual computer eye exam, which is recommended by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for computer workers. Make sure your workstation is healthy too. Give it a check-up to reduce all potential pit-falls that may aggravate eyestrain. Have your computer checked for optimal screen resolution; use proper lighting; minimize glare; and adjust the brightness of your computer screen. Avoid screen staring: Eliminate that deer-in-the-headlights focusing by blinking more often. This rewets your eyes naturally to avoid dryness and irritation.

One exercise that may help: Every 30 minutes, blink 10 times by closing your eyes very slowly as if falling asleep. Another exercise that may help: Every 30 minutes, look away from your screen and focus for 5-10 seconds on a distant object. Or skip the exercises and just take frequent breaks (NIOSH recommends a 10-minute break per hour). This doesn't have to be a coffee break, just ten-minutes away from the computer screen (a good time to catch up on filing or paperwork). Since office buildings may have excessively dry environments, a humidifier in your work area may also help.

Created: 12/3/2005  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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