We are so used to squinting in front of a computer that eye strain is seen simply as a by-product of our times. And because it’s so prevalent, most of us tend to ignore it without realizing that this can be resolved easily. Or that eye strain can affect work productivity.
Says Uma Mallaiah, senior consultant, ophthalmology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, “Computers, TV and video games don’t harm the eyes, but cause strain that can result in headache, dryness, irritation and red, watering eyes—popularly known as the computer vision syndrome.”
When we concentrate on a task the natural blinking rate goes down, which makes the tear film evaporate, leading to a dry eye. Parul Sharma, senior consultant, ophthalmology, Max Healthcare, Delhi, says, “The convergent muscles (that help us look at a near object) also get fatigued while your jaw, eyes and shoulders are clenched, specially under stress, which can all lead to strain.”
A study conducted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Optometry in 2008 examined the relationship between the vision of computer workers and their productivity in the workplace. It found there was a direct correlation between the two, particularly when it came to complex, repetitive tasks such as data entry.
Computer-related tasks took much longer when the subjects wore glasses with less than optimum correction. Productivity was down even among computer users who were unaware they had vision problems.
Overall, the study suggests, performance can suffer significantly, by as much as 20%, without correct treatment of eye strain.
The eye basics
A few precautions can work wonders. Dr Mallaiah suggests using anti-glare glasses that decrease strain, thereby reducing tiredness. She also recommends lubricating eye drops, available at most optometrists—a drop in each eye at night before sleeping and one every couple of hours that you spend in front of the computer. These drops reduce dryness and irritation.
Both doctors are unanimous about taking a break every couple of hours you spend in front of the computer and closing your eyes for 2 minutes, as you would in relaxed sleep.
If you’re suffering from frequent headaches, however, get your eyes tested. “Sometimes the problem may just be mildly bad eyesight where you may think you don’t need glasses but you do,” says Dr Sharma.
Push-up (pencil-to-nose) exercise
To strengthen your convergence muscles, this exercise can help you focus for longer periods without eye strain.
Look at the tip of a pencil placed around 50cm away. Slowly move the pencil towards the eyes until it appears double. Repeat the exercise a number of times with the aim of developing convergence. This also helps treat diplopia, or double vision, which is the simultaneous perception of two images of a single object, especially when bought closer.
Do this twice a day (morning and evening), 8-10 times each, for at least a month or till the signs of fatigue reduce. If you don’t see much improvement, contact your ophthalmologist, who can suggest specific exercises to improve the overall health of the eye.
Food for sight
Eating certain foods can help safeguard your vision and also improve your eyesight, says Mini Sharma, clinical nutritionist, Fortis, New Delhi.
Consume adequate amounts of antioxidant vitamins A, C and E. These vitamins work best together, so take them at the same time.
Have liver, whole milk and egg yolk, which contain high amounts of vitamin A. Carrots and sweet potatoes contain carotenoids, which the body converts to vitamin A under optimal conditions.
Lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin are some other eyesight-boosting nutrients found in eggs, dark-colour fruits and vegetables such as mango, kiwi and broccoli. “They work like natural sunglasses for the eyes.”
Include fatty fish such as salmon in your diet or take a good fish oil supplement. To get the best combination of fatty acids, regularly change your oil, from peanut to sesame to soyabean and then olive.
Replace white foods such as processed sugar and wheat with healthy alternatives such as wholegrains and jaggery. Wholegrains are rich both in antioxidants and the vitamins and minerals necessary for good eyesight.
The most prominent element in relation to refractive error (that causes blurred vision) is a trace mineral called chromium, which tends to be a bit scarce in the standard modern diet. White sugar in the body sneaks into the mineral reserves and steals away this precious mineral, which is a significant factor in the development of myopia. Sufficient levels of chromium allow the muscles around the lens to sustain near focus as well as the ability to change focal length, for extended periods. By reducing processed sugar one can prevent this precious reserve from being depleted.
The best source for the nutrient is brewer’s yeast, but some of the other good sources are beef, liver, eggs, apples, bananas and spinach.
Write to us at email@example.com