Working long hours on the computer can leave you with dry eyes and blurred vision

Harish, a software engineer, recently landed his first job. His work involves staring at a colour monitor all day long in an air-conditioned office. Soon, his eyes started itching, and he experienced a feeling of dryness. Alarmed, he rushed to an ophthalmologist, only to be told that he suffered from a condition called dry eye. Millions of computer users across the world experience this problem some time or the other in their career. You are also likely to suffer from this condition, if you stare at a computer for more than six-eight hours a day. The solution is, however, simple. Regular application of artificial tears, frequent blinking (12-18 times a minute) and brief breaks between long hours on the computer can set right matters to a large extent. Like it did for Harish.He now wears anti-glare glasses and is back to being comfortable working on the computer. There are many like Harish but it takes time to treat the condition because they come in late. "If left untreated and when coupled with Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), routine work gets affected because of soreness in the eye," says Dr. Kalpana Narendran, Senior medical officer, Aravind Eye Hospital, Coimbatore.CVS is characterised by headaches, loss of focus, burning sensation in the eyes, blurred vision and shoulder and neck pain. It occurs because the eye and brain react differently while reading on the computer. Printed matter has well defined edges, but characters on the monitor don't. So, the muscles of the eye strain to maintain focus, resulting in burning sensation and eye fatigue. Long lines, lines that are too close for comfort, very small fonts and use of bright colours add to the problem. A reason why some hospitals have set up clinics to deal with this category of patients. Dr. D. Ramamurthy, Medical director, The Eye Foundation, Coimbatore, says besides specific eye wear, advice is given on ergonomics, seating, positioning the computer, keyboard and general lighting. He sees at least a couple of patients with this problem every day. His hospital has a tie-up with a software firm. In this category, the percentage of people with computer related eye problems is between 5 and 10 per cent. Working in an air-conditioned office can worsen matters. It can increase dryness, leading to a feeling of grittiness. However, Dr. Ramamurthy says there is no link between usage of contact lenses and CVS. "Dryness can be experienced by anyone," he says. Dry eye is also not restricted to adults. Children who use the computer for long hours without breaks and who use badly designed computer tables also face this problem.Dr. Y. Umesh, a consultant, says computer users should blink as frequently as possible. And, use artificial tears to rewet the cornea. For relaxation, he advises them to close their eyes for a while or focus on a distant object for 20-30 seconds.Some physical changes also help. "By placing the monitor a few inches below eye level, you look down to read. Besides, reducing reflection from the screen, it also ensures that your eyelid covers part of the eye. Therefore, it does not dry fast," he says.SUBHA J RAO