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Are your eyes in digital danger?

Are your eyes in digital danger?
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First Published: Mon, Aug 10 2009. 08 53 PM IST

Updated: Mon, Aug 10 2009. 08 53 PM IST
At work and at play, digital devices such as computers, gaming consoles and mobile devices bombard the eye with flickering images. The result: a troublesome present and a painful future.
“Radiation emitted from various techno gadgets is one of the main factors that cause eye stress,” says Usha Shridhar, consultant ophthalmologist, Wockhardt Hospitals, Bangalore. “Up to 90% of people who use computers regularly face a lot of eye strain,” adds Sameer Kaushal, consultant ophthalmologist, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon. In addition, people blink less while staring at a screen, aggravating dryness in the eyes caused by dry air circulating in air-conditioned rooms.
Also See Warning Signs (PDF)
The stress from the extended use of digital video devices such as computer monitors can ultimately lead to what is called computer vision syndrome (CVS), manifested as severe pain in the eyes, accompanied by headaches. The eyes can also gradually weaken, a condition referred to as asthenopia. “When the retina is exposed to UV (ultraviolet) rays emitted by (such) gadgets, it can also result in minor refractive errors,” says Dr Shridhar.
Frequent computer users are at greater risk of developing glaucoma. Specialists also believe flat television screens affect eye development, leading to nearsightedness and focusing problems, as the human eye is designed to see objects in 3D, using stereoscopic vision: The image of an object created by both our eyes is slightly different because of their relative positioning. The brain combines the two images to give a sense of depth. Hence, watching flat surfaces for long periods affects eyesight.
Telltale symptoms
Eye strain, headache, blurred vision, dry eyes and neck and back pain are the five major symptoms of CVS, a rapidly spreading but largely unrecognized epidemic among both professional and ordinary computer users, according to a study by researchers at the University of Albany, US, and Wenzhou Medical College, China, published in September. It is a condition that is becoming increasingly common as the world goes digital. The American Optometric Association (AOA) adds to the list of CVS symptoms (from staring at a computer screen for long periods): tired and sore eyes, glare sensitivity, and shoulder pain. The AOA estimates that around 50% of computer users experience such symptoms.
Preventive measures
People who work at a digital screen for around 7 hours daily should be alert to the first signs of eye strain. The signs can vary across individuals: For instance, both excessive watering and dry eye, though seemingly opposite phenomena, are symptoms of visual stress.
Indeed, dry eyes are often the first and main complaint in CVS. “Use artificial tears/eye drops with a doctor’s advice,” says Dr Kaushal. Lubricating eye drops and special computer glasses also help relieve symptoms. “Typically, people who use contact lenses need to shift to glasses when they experience prolonged eye stress until the symptoms subside,” he adds.
A simple, natural and palatable preventive: The intake of green leafy vegetables—which contain lutein—helps protect the eyes, according to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in April. You also need to audit your work and leisure environments—in fact, all the spaces where digital screens are located. Proper lighting, anti-glare filters, ergonomic positioning of computer monitors and regular work breaks are important in improving visual comfort.
Convergence: Focus first on the tip of your nose (30-60 seconds), and then on a distant object. Repeat 10 times, early in the morning.
Rolling eyes: Move the eyeballs up and down, left to right, in circular motions slowly. Repeat 10 times, any time of day.
Slow winks:Close your eyes for 3-5 seconds and open them for 3-5 seconds; repeat 7-8 times. Do this 5-10 times through the day.
Yoga: Deep breathing exercises such as pranayam help release stress and aid blood circulation. Do 10-20 cycles early in the morning.
Eye cup: Cupping your eyes in the palms of your hands for a while can help rest stressed eyes.
Fruits, especially citrus, are good sources of vitamin C.
Green vegetables such as spinach, kale, turnip greens, lettuce, broccoli, peas and beans provide lutein.
Carrots offer beta carotene. Nuts are excellent sources of vitamin E.
Fish, especially cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, are rich in omega-3 fats.
Whole grains are recommended for their zinc content.
See your eye doctor often
Apart from symptoms of eye stress, here are a few more factors which indicate that you should see your eye doctor often.
Pre-existing diseases: Chronic ailments such as diabetes and hypertension call for eye check-ups every six months, or maybe every three months if the condition is severe.
Age: Those over 40 years of age must have their eyes tested annually for early signs of deteriorating vision.
Corrected eyesight: Those using spectacles should get an annual eye health check-up, including eye dilation tests, to check retinal health.
— Archana Rai
Prevention is better than cure
Eating a diet rich in leafy vegetables, nuts and fish and low in starchy carbohydrates appears to lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration, where people lose central vision. An ongoing study reported in the May issue of ‘Ophthalmology’ is the first to calculate the combined effect of certain dietary nutrients and eating habits on this disease. Vitamins C and E, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin (both carotenoid pigments) and DHA and EPA (both omega-3 fatty acids) are linked with lower risk . Notably, beta carotene, the nutrient most popularly associated with eye health, was not linked with lower risk for macular degeneration.The greatest benefit was seen from regular consumption of these nutrients as part of a low glycaemic index (GI) diet. Lower GI foods include most vegetables and protein-rich foods, including nuts.
— Archana Rai
Drinking harms hearing!
Having a hard time hearing your pal at a bar? So-called “cocktail party deafness” may not result from a noisy environment alone. In 2007, researchers from University College London, UK, found alcohol temporarily drains hearing, particularly when it comes to conversations. As a person drinks, his hearing gets less acute. Lower frequency hearing, used by the brain to discern speech, suffers the most. But alcohol also seems to build tolerance to loud noise. It’s still not clear why; perhaps alcohol damages the auditory nerves or affects the brain’s processing of sound, the scientists suggested.
— Kavita Devgan
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Aug 10 2009. 08 53 PM IST