When students at University of Colorado trek to Norlin Library for an all-night study session, strained eyes, headaches and sore necks are not on their list of tasks to achieve.
Students should pay attention to these symptoms—along with blurred vision and dry eyes—because it may not just be stress, but a diagnosable disorder known as computer vision syndrome.
According to the American Optometric Association, CVS is a stress on the human visual system created by interaction between the human eye and a computer screen. The intensity of the stress depends on the amount of time a person spends on the computer and the environment in which the computer is located.
Of the patients that Boulder optometrist Dr. Rachel Potter of Sunrise Vision Care treats, she said there are an equal number of young and old people that come in to see her for common CVS symptoms. Potter said it’s hard, however, to diagnose the syndrome without conducting a proper eye examination.
Although Potter did not have an official study, she said she estimated Boulder to have more CVS patients than other cities in the U.S.
“Boulder is a high-tech area,” Potter said. “High-tech areas like Boulder and New York are going to have more people with CVS than other areas of the nation.”
Potter said that in addition to screen sharpness, distance and the angle from the eye to the computer screen also play a large role in creating visual discomfort. Therefore the improvement of CRT to LCD monitors will not prevent CVS in its entirety.
Some have voiced concern for the impact this has on students, especially with the amount of online material CU offers.
On the Chinook University Library Web page alone, the online course reserves amount to 7,094 files, library Webmaster John Dziadecki said.
Professor Harvey Lewis of CU’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience said that CVS symptoms such as dry eyes can also occur as a result of the small distance between the student and the computer.
Lewis said the eye is like a globe-shaped object that must have strong muscles in order to focus its lens. These muscles, called accommodation muscles, contract and stretch the lens in order to project a clear image of the viewed object in the back of the eye.
“When young adults look at something close for a long time, their eye adapts to this focus,” Lewis said. “When they look away they can’t focus as clearly.”
Lewis said that the lasting effect this concentrated focus has on a student can be transient or can lead to permanent elongated change of eye shape.
To eliminate harshness emitted by the risk factors, Lewis suggests the 20-20-20 rule. Lewis said this rule states that every 20 minutes spent on a computer should be complimented with 20 seconds of looking at an object that is 20 feet away. By doing this, the eyes and their accommodation muscles receive a chance to relax and readjust to a more comfortable focal point.
For those who may have CVS, there are ways to reverse the problem.
Potter said that the best way to treat existing CVS complications and prevent further harm is to schedule an eye exam in order to rule this vision syndrome in or out and then proceed with treatment specific to individual vision.
Treatment differs for each patient, varying from a prescription for computer glasses to medical instruction toward improved visual hygiene, which includes adjustment in both eye and body posture in relation to the computer, Potter said.
Students said they are feeling the impact of long hours in front of the computer.
Jesse Fiedorowicz, a 20-year-old junior engineering major, said he definitely feels the effects of LCD screens on his visual system. Between his job as a student computer technician for Information Technology Services and the hours he dedicates to homework, Fiedorowicz said his eyes feel the burn of CVS symptoms.
Fiedorowicz said that he currently averages about seven hours per day on a computer.
“My eyes get tired and I’ve started to need to wear my glasses,” Fiedorowicz said.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Maggie Zawalski at Margaret.firstname.lastname@example.org.