By Nikki Temkin

How much time do you spend staring at the computer screen? Do you wear sunglasses outside? When was the last time you had your eyes checked? The answers to these questions may say a lot about the state of your eyes.

Many of us take our sight for granted yet, when asked, most people fear losing their sight more than any other sense. It may be true that medical advances have sometimes made it possible to correct vision, replace diseased parts of the eye and even heal some forms of blindness. But, if you’re lucky enough to have perfect vision now, taking care of your eyes is essential to keeping them perfect in the future.

Optometrists in a survey found that more than 14% of their patients had computer vision syndrome (CVS) – not surprising considering that humans weren’t designed to sit and stare at a screen all day. But, staring at a computer screen will most probably uncover your eye problems rather than cause them.

“The high visual demands of computer work and play make many individuals susceptible to the development of eye and vision-related problems,” says optometrist Jeffrey Anshel. “With the proliferation of portable electronic devices such as laptops, palm pilots and video game players, it’s no surprise eye-care professionals are seeing more patients who complain of ocular discomfort.”

The increased use of smaller, portable work and recreational gadgets such as smartphones and tablet computers may contribute to eye fatigue. “Eye stress and strain may be caused by a combination of individual visual problems, improper viewing habits and poor environmental conditions, such as glare, improper workstation set-up, dirty screens, poor lighting and viewing angles,” says Anshel.

But, it’s not just computer geeks who need to be careful. Your genetics also play a role in the health of your eyes. If anyone in your family suffers from anything like macular degeneration (an eye disease in which the macula, a structure within the eye, gradually deteriorates, leading to decreased vision or blindness) or any eye disease, then be extra vigilant.

The best thing you can do for your eyes is to have an annual examination. Optometrist Brian Levin says: “Children should ideally have their eyes tested at the age of three. If you have a family history of eye problems such as early cataracts, then it may be possible to take a medication that will help to prevent this happening to you.”

In South Africa, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness, affecting 160000 of an estimated 250000 blind population. Another important preventative measure is always to wear sunglasses when out in the sun as sun damage can lead to macular degeneration and cataracts. And remember, the sooner an eye problem is identified, whether it be poor eyesight or glaucoma, the more successfully it can be treated.

Tips for healthy eyes

  • Have an annual eye exam.
  • A red eye or a pain in an eye that doesn’t go away within a short time, or changes in your vision, need to be checked out.
  • Wear sunglasses with UV protection and a hat when you’re outside. This is especially important for anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors, such as golfers or gardeners.
  • A healthy diet and lifestyle is good for your eyes.
  • Smoking contributes to macular degeneration.
  • If you have a medical condition such as diabetes or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, you’re at an increased risk of developing a serious eye disease.
  • Use an anti-reflective coating on your lenses if you’re at the computer for extended periods to reduce the glare. Check that the contrast setting is not too bright and sit at least an arm’s length away from the computer screen. If you’re light sensitive, consider putting a small tint into the lens as well.
  • After every hour at the computer, take a five-minute break to relax your eye muscles. Also, blink more when you’re sitting at the computer and every 20 minutes, look away for 20 seconds.
  • Avoid always working at the computer from the same distance. Change your focus regularly.
  • Computers can give off a lot of heat, causing dry eyes. Use artificial tears to moisten the eye.
  • If you’re older than 50, consider a specialised pair of glasses for the computer.
  • Teach children not to hold books or computer games too close to them.

This information is brought to you by Clarin Eye Care Center. Please call or contact our office for more information.