Headaches, squinting and eyes that burn, ache, water or tire easily are indications that the visual system needs help. Most people are born with the potential for good eyes and sight. Vision, however, is learned. And the way you use and care for your visual system directly affects your enjoyment of play, school or work. Your visual system can undergo tremendous stress.
Changing Vision Needs
Students now read three times the number of textbooks their grandparents did. But although the sheer numbers of books is greater which can cause eye strain, the future shift is increasingly digital with its own problems. Textbooks are becoming anachronistic as digital texts and other digital learning software replace them. The increased reliance on digital materials at school and wide-spread obsession with digital games, social media, etc. by children and teens means additional serious consequences in vision health.
Although parents may be familiar with vision damage from UVA and UVB light from the sun, few are aware of the damage to the retina from blue light which is emitted by digital screens, electronic devices. The most common visual problems reported among college-aged computer users were headache (53.3%), burning sensation in the eyes (54.8%) and tired eyes (48%). While studies on the effects of computer eye strain are not yet prevalent, taking a look at data related to repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) can help put this problem into perspective.
Adults constantly use near vision at work and play. The shift to computers has engaged a growing number of workers in prolonged, near-vision tasks. Eye discomfort, headaches, blurred vision, lowered visual performance and a wide array of vision-linked problems are related to this heavy near point vision overload, not to mention increased risk of glaucoma, dry eye, advanced macular degeneration, damage to rods and cones, retinal pigmented layer of macula, and eye cancer. One study showed excess computer use could result in reduced work up to productivity 40%.
The problem is that human beings were not designed to do constant viewing less than arm’s length away. We evolved hunter-soldier eyes for survival, spotting game and enemies at a distance. Only in the last half-century have so many people been forced to deal with sustained, near visual tasks. The result has been a constant stress on the visual system that we were not designed to endure, producing eye symptoms and related problems. Many vision and eye problems are the direct result of an adaptation (or failure to adapt) to these relatively new, near centered visual tasks. It’s no wonder that ignoring good visual hygiene, the impact of long-term visual stress or failing to heed symptoms of vision problems can have a significant effect on the quality and enjoyment of a person’s life, including many people suffering from computer eye strain that effects their ability to work.
More Than 20/20
The standard eye test called the Snellen chart was designed in about the year 1860 to test students’ ability to read a chalkboard from the back of a schoolroom and indicates distance visual acuity (clarity of sight). The Snellen chart does not, however, test the ability of a person to handle near visual work such as reading, writing or prolonged close-up activities, “near point vision’. Near point visual stress, despite 20/20 distance clarity, has been shown to lead to the development of visual problems and eye conditions including dry eyes often the result of a reduce blinking rate, increased myopia and glaucoma. Blurred vision, dry eyes, burning sensation, redness of eyes and headache are the main symptoms resulting from improper use of computers, as well as visual fatigue symptoms such as sore eyes and increased glare sensitivity.
Chronic inflammation causes increase production of free radicals in the body and oxidative stress. Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress, neutralize free radicals and many reduce inflammation. Myopia (nearsightedness) is one of these eye conditions. Approximately 41.6% of the population of the United States was in the years measured between 1999 and 2004 nearsighted as compared to 25% measured in the years 1971 – 1972, an 16.6% in the past three decades. Myopia now appears at earlier ages and usually the earlier it appears, the deeper the person advances into nearsightedness. Increasingly strong lenses for distance vision are required as myopia progresses. Another option is to work with a vision therapist for helping to maintain as well as often being able to reduce one’s prescription. Daily exercising can help maintain strong, healthy vision, and well as taking regular breaks from reading and computer use to do these eye exercises and stretching.
The most common result of visual stress is lowered achievement as mentioned in the study above. When chronic stress is present, people usually do one of the following things:
- avoid the task by doing as little as they can get by with;
- experience pain or other symptoms (such as aches, visual or body fatigue, falling asleep when reading);
- suppress the sight of one eye at the cost of reduced efficiency and understanding;
- develop myopia or astigmatism;
- get frustrated because they have difficulty concentrating
- strain harder to get the work or reading done, or
- any combination of the above.
How to Take Better Care of Your Vision – Here are some basic guidelines for reducing visual stress:
- Looking up. Both children and adults need to look up and away from near tasks to distant objects regularly.
- Lighting. The illumination on what you are doing should be three times brighter than the rest of the room. Don’t read under a single lamp in a dark room. Eliminating glare is especially important for close-up work
- Sitting straight. Have chest up, shoulders back and weight over the seat so both eyes are at the eye task level and at an equal distance from what is being seen.
- Best distance. Reading, writing or close-up work is best done at an eye-to-activity distance equal to the length between middle knuckle and elbow (14 to 16 inches for adults).
- Posture. Sit upright while reading or watching television in bed. Avoid lying on your back or stomach.
- Writing. Hold your pencil or pen an inch or so from the tip so you can see and guide it without tilting your head or body to the side.
- Television. Watch TV from a distance equal to seven times the width of the screen (about eight to ten feet) and sit upright. Have indirect lamps on in the room but placed to eliminate glare on the screen. Watching television involves and develops very few visual skills and should be limited to a few hours or less daily, especially for children.
- Participating. Perform outdoor activities that require seeing at a distance. Become aware of what and where things are on all sides. When walking, keep your head up, eyes wide open and look toward objects, but avoid staring at them.
- Nutrition. A good diet high in fruits and vegetables along with supplementation of lutein, zeaxanthin, bilberry and Vitamin A are beneficial for keeping the eyes healthy. Additional nutrients may be required for specific eye conditions.
Nourishing Your Eyes
Medical science doesn’t really know why or how most poor eyesight develops. It wrongly believes that eyesight can only worsen; that once eyesight starts to go, nothing can be done about it and that all we can do is stand idly by and watch it deteriorate. The good news is that we don’t have to be passive victims of deteriorating eyesight. The following information, from a variety of approaches, can help preserve your gift of sight. Your eyesight can be helped. Good nutrition, physical exercise and recommended eye exercises all support your vision.
Let’s start with nutrition. When Mom and Dad told you to eat your carrots because they were good for your eyes, they were on the right track. Researchers are continually documenting that we really are what we eat. The role of nutrition and its effect on the eyes are without doubt. Consider this. It is believed that more than 25% of the nutrients we absorb from our food goes to nourish our “visual system” which includes our eyes and the nerves, blood vessels and tissues that support our vision. The concentration of Vitamin C in healthy eyes is higher than almost anywhere else in the body.
Aerobic exercise not only benefits your heart. It’s good for your eyes too. Exercise is extremely important in the prevention of the eyes’ worsening. Exercise raises oxygen levels in the cells and increases lymph and blood circulation. This increased circulation is a prerequisite for good vision. I recommend that you gently build up to aerobic exercise for a minimum of 20 minutes per day, four days a week. You don’t have to join a health club or run five miles a day or bench press 300 pounds to have good vision. Here are some great ways of staying in shape and helping to maintain healthy eyes:
- Walking or jogging. Get a good, comfortable, supportive pair of walking or jogging shoes and select a route that won’t have you pounding concrete (it’s bad for your joints).
- Rebounding. A rebounder is a mini-trampoline. Rebounding is gentle jumping on a trampoline. This exercise keeps blood flowing and improves circulation, particularly in the legs and head.
- Jumping rope. This childhood activity actually is a wonderful way to stay in shape and requires only a jump rope and five to ten minutes per day.
- Eye exercises. Everyone knows that you have to exercise the muscles to keep them fit. This applies not only to heart, leg and arm muscles, but to eye muscles as well. To improve visual fitness, you need to regularly exercise your eye muscles.
Marc Grossman, Doctor of Optometry and New York State Licensed Acupuncturist is author of several books, including Natural Eye Care – Your Guide to Healthy Vision. Since 1980 Dr. Marc Grossman has helped many people maintain healthy vision and even improve eyesight. He is best described as a Holistic Eye Doctor, dedicated to helping people with such conditions ranging from myopia and dry eyes to potentially vision threatening diseases as macular degeneration and glaucoma. His combined multi-disciplinary approach using nutrition, eye exercises, lifestyle changes and Chinese Medicine provides him with a wide array of tools and approaches to tackle difficult eye problems. Dr. Grossman founded the Rye Learning Center in 1980, a multidisciplinary center for learning problems, in 1996 co-founded Integral Health Associates in New Paltz, New York, and in 1999 co-founded Natural Eye Care, Inc. For more information go to www.naturaleyecare.com or call 845-255-3728.