Computer use causing vision woes for kids

Implications for future work force significant

A new study found that as many as 30% of U.S. children cause undue stress to their visual systems by overusing their computers. That’s certainly not good news, but should it be of concern to occupational health professionals who, after all, treat adult workers?

Absolutely, insists Cary Herzberg, OD, whose private practice in Aurora, IL, was one of eight sites used for the study. "Myopia [near-sightedness], caused by extreme accommodative fatigue, will impact a whole generation and can do a whole lot more damage over a long period of time," Herzberg explains. "Incredible amounts of myopia develop in adults over as little as five years of intense computer use. When you start with kids, the stakes are a lot higher."

Some will point out that as many as 70% of computer-using adults develop computer vision syndrome, or CVS, vs. the 30% of the children, age 5 to 12. Doesn’t that mean it’s a more serious problem for adults? Not necessarily, says Herzberg. "It has a lot to do with basics. When you try to look at a computer screen, the eyes will seek to actually focus behind the screen. We call this the resting point of accommodation, which gets further back on adults. A child has more accommodative ability."

On the other hand, kids lack maturity. "These kids do things that are very stressful to the eyes and are not mature enough to handle it," Herzberg notes.

Over time, the symptoms of CVS can develop. These include headaches, itching eyes, eyestrain, red eyes, focusing fatigue of the eyes, and blurred vision. "Also, the eyes leave the body, so to speak, so your neck muscles, shoulders, and other part of the body are impacted," Herzberg explains.

Preventing adult problems

These and other symptoms have caused work problems for a large number of adult computer users at work. Herzberg’s concern is what we should be doing now for future adult computer workers. "Kids are our employees of the future. The thing we want to stress is preventive care," says Herzberg. "If you went to the dentist for a regular checkup and everything was fine, would they tell you not to come back until you have a cavity?"

This is where the occupational health professional comes in. Workers who are parents should be encouraged to practice solid preventive eye health with their children. "Get them regular exams, and have them be with the PRIO kid tester [which tests for computer-related vision difficulties]," Herzberg advises. "If there are problems, there are all kinds of progressive lenses and computer available glasses to deal with vision problems." (Get more information on PRIO at www.prio.com.)

Have your kids tested early, Herzberg recommends. "We have patients between 5 and 7 who have needed prescriptions," he notes. Parents should also be made aware of proper ergonomics. "Make sure the computer screen is two feet away from the kids," says Herzberg. "Another problem is that these new big monitors are too high. The eye has to look down to focus properly. I’d almost suggest not getting a big screen. Proper lighting is also important. Watch the glare situation. And of course, use ergonomic seating."

How much time should kids be allowed to spend at the computer? "We found that under three hours a day is an acceptable maximum," says Herzberg. "We also need to get the point home that vision impairment is a cumulative thing — reading, TV, and so on, all contribute. The earlier kids start with close work the more likely they are to be myopic."

The threat of myopia

Myopia is more complicated than it first appears and clearly impacts adults at work, says Herzberg. "As adults, many of our patients don’t understand why they are getting near-sighted," he explains. "They get prescription glasses for distance, and the doctor may even tell them to take them off for reading. But many use those same glasses for computer work. Their eyes work extra hard, they get worse, and this exacerbates CVS symptoms big-time. It can get out of hand in a very short period of time."

Fortunately, says Herzberg, a new kind of lens — near progressives — has been developed specifically for computer use. "This is a progressive bifocal strictly for the computer screen," he says. "You look straight ahead at the computer, down for the keyboard, or up for five to seven feet above the computer. They’re ideal for computer work and not only for eye health. They help save workers from musculoskeletal disorders as well." Herzberg says several manufacturers produce these near-progressives and that employees who do a lot of computer work can ask their eye care professionals about them.

[For more information, contact: Cary Herzberg, OD, Herzberg Optical, 2956 Ogden Ave., Aurora, lL 60504. Telephone: (630) 851-3338.]