PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Computers and Eye Strain

Posted on Jun 27, 2011

As computers become part of our everyday lives, more and more people are experiencing a variety of ocular (eye) symptoms related to computer use. These include eyestrain, tired eyes, irritation, redness, blurred vision, and double vision – collectively referred to as computer vision syndrome. The visual effects of various display characteristics such as lighting, glare, display quality, refresh rates, and radiation affect how your eyes feel. Offices tend to keep the humidity low to protect the computers, however the dry air irritates the eyes. Indeed, the major contributor to computer vision syndrome symptoms by far appears to be dry eye.

Eye health tips when using the computer/PDAs

  • Remember to blink (blinking rates go down from 21 times/minute to seven times/minute)
  • Look in the distance for at least one minute every hour
  • Have an ergonomic specialist at work optimize your computer area

What is dry eye?

Dry eye (stinging, burning, gritty sensation, reflex tearing) is also associated with aging, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, long-term contact lens wear, LASIK eye surgery, menopause, long-standing blepharitis and a relative dietary deficiency of omega-3 essential fatty acids. There are two general ways that someone can get dry eyes — decreased tear production or increased tear evaporation.

Home care for dry eye

Artificial Tears:
One drop in each eye at least four times per day and as often as needed. Do not use drops that say they “get the red out.”

Hot compresses:
Twice a day, at morning and bedtime. After soaking your eyes for at least five to ten minutes, keep eyes closed and gently wipe your eyelashes with the cloth to remove any debris or crust from your eyelids. Minimize eye make up and remove it thoroughly before going to sleep.

Omega-3 fatty acids:
These have been shown to balance the tear film on the eyes and have countless other health benefits, including preventing heart disease. I recommend taking fish oil and/or flaxseed oil every day. You can take the pills (as directed on the bottle) sold in the vitamin section of stores, or eat the food source. If you choose to eat fish, Alaskan wild salmon, trout, sardines and herring are the safest and best sources, and should be eaten three times per week.

If you choose to ingest flaxseed oil, use the refrigerated oil (e.g, in a smoothie or salad dressing, keeping it cold) or use ground flax seed, two tablespoons per day (e.g. on your cereal or salad.) The whole seeds and the flour baked into products do not work. Walnuts, avocado and soybeans are also good vegetarian sources. I find it easiest and least expensive to buy whole flax seeds and grind them with a coffee grinder. Put them in a “ziplock” bag in your freezer and eat two tablespoons per day. You can also buy them in a vacuum sealed pack and then refrigerate.

Tips to treating more extreme cases of dry eye

  • Over the counter lubricant ointment (e.g. Refresh PM) at bedtime
  • Cool mist humidifier in bedroom

If after three months you are still having symptoms, ask your doctor about prescriptive eye drops, punctal plugs and other treatments.

Dr. Barbara Erny is an ophthalmologist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Vision Care Center.