According to the Computer Desktop Encyclopedia, Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is "A variety of problems related to prolonged viewing of a computer screen. Short-term effects include dry eyes, blurred vision, eye fatigue and excessive tearing. Long-term effects include migraines, cataracts and visual epilepsy. Some solutions are to keep reflections and glare to a minimum and to provide a non-fluorescent, uniform light source. Special lamps are available that maintain the proper light around the monitor and generate light at much higher frequencies than regular light bulbs"
With the ever increasing amount of time consumers are spending in front of their computer screens, this disability is considered on of the fastest growing work related health problems in the country today. For many Americans, the problem cannot be left behind at the office. Individuals come home, to spend time surfing the web, corresponding via email, and pursuing various computer-based entertainment functions. The digital world is swiftly becoming dangerous to the health and well-being of a great many Americans.
Scope of the Problem
According to a recent article in Occupational Hazards, there are more than 70 million personal computers in use in homes and offices across the United States. According to the American Optometric Association, nearly 90% of people who use those PCs for more than three hours a day suffer from eye trouble. In 1999, more than 12 million of them sought eye treatment, at a cost of more than $2 billion a year to health plans. Occurrence of the syndrome has already been measured at an increasing rate. According to MMR Magazine (2001), "... some 60 million or more Americans are said to suffer from computer vision syndrome... And the number is expected to grow, with 21 million children expected to use the Internet at home or in school by next year, suggests Better Vision Institute, a nonprofit organization in Alexandria, Va"
OSHA has also weighed in recently on the issue of CVS. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently published its final Ergonomic Program Standard, which identifies that employers must send symptomatic employees suffering from musculoskeletal disorder to an appropriate health-care professional. Under the new standards, CVS has been included as a repetitive stress injury that requires treatment by an optometrist. In other published studies, the American Optometric Association, more than 70% of computer workers suffer from computer vision syndrome.
At the root of all this expense is a familiar cast of discomforts:
Eyestrain (sore or fatigued eyes).
Slowness in changing focusing distance.
Blurred vision after close-up work.
Eye irritation (burning, dryness, redness).
Contact lens discomfort.
Sensitivity to light
In addition to problems which prolonged computer use create with users vision, extended computer usage can also affect the posture, and therefore create disabling muscular and skeletal symptoms, including neck, back and shoulder pain. "Computer vision syndrome is the leading health complaint of office workers," says Jeff DeFazio, president and chief operating officer of Cable Car Eyewear.
Workers also are at risk from increased levels of discomfort from glare if they use a dark background display screen on their VDT. The resulting disparity between the dark screen and the glare of overhead lighting create can create ongoing eye strain. Other sources of extreme contrast differences between the VDT and other materials which the user handles at the computer workstation include white paper on the desk, light-colored desk surfaces, desk lamps directed toward the eyes, or desk lamps which illuminate the desk too highly.
Many experts expect CVS to soon surpass carpal tunnel syndrome as the most-common workplace health issue. In accordance with that unwelcome expectation, the insurance industry is warning employers to prepare for a wave of computer-related injury claims: repetitive stress of the eye muscles.
Moreover, the current trend toward doing nearly everything online will likely accelerate the occurrence of CVS. As more people use the Internet at work and at home, the problems of CVS are sure to increase at an accelerating rate. The repercussions could include higher health insurance premiums and HMO fees. CVS is a very real and growing problem for employers and employees.
A host of implications, in the form of lost productivity and absenteeism alone, are compelling affects of the syndrome and are some of the reasons which CVS is drawing so much attention.
According to Chambers (1999) "the Journal of the American Optometric Association cites recent studies by Dr. James Sheedy of the University of California at Berkeley, a principal investigator of CVS. Sheedy's research has shown that minor visual degradations can lower worker productivity from 4% to 19% on common office and work tasks. That could translate into an efficiency drop costing from $1,200 to $5,700 a year for a typical clerical worker with an annual salary of $30,000, or as much as $15,200 a year for an in-demand computer professional with a salary of $80,000. In all cases, the employer takes this "hidden" hit on productivity." recent study at the University of California Berkeley's (UCB) School of Optometry, funded by Viratec Thin Films, Inc. shed new light on what eye care professionals have long suspected, that a leading contributor to Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) can cause loss of office worker productivity. Specifically, the study focused on the unwanted reflections from a computer monitor that adversely affect the ability of millions of computer users to read information. In reaching this conclusion, UCB researchers studied the effects of various computer display situations on the visual performance, including reading speed, accuracy, comprehension and acuity.
According to the study, subjects reported less glare and fewer CVS-related symptoms with displays that had a vacuum-deposit Optium (tm) coating by Viratec. They were able to perform visual tasks considerably faster and more accurately on these displays than on either uncoated or standard-coated VDT's.
Adding substance to previous anecdotal information, this research is the first to show a direct correlation between glare and reduced productivity," said Dr. James Sheedy, who established the VDT Eye Clinic at UCB's School of Optometry, where the study took place under the direction of Dr. Ian Bailey.
A survey of optometrists recently indicated that out of the 10 million eye examinations are given annually in this country, the majority of them are related to vision problems related to video display terminal (VDT) use. This condition most commonly occurs when the viewing demand of the task exceeds the visual abilities of the VDT user. The American Optometric Association defines CVS as that "complex of eye and vision problems related to near work which are experienced during or related to computer use."
Another aspect of the syndrome is that nearly 80% of our learning comes through the eyes. Therefore any vision difficulties will slow and impede everyday learning and comprehension processes that make for good on-the-job performance. As a result, CVS can become an accelerated problem in the business world. As a result the condition is being approached as a serious disorder with real, and financial bottom-line consequences for business.
Looking at the changing nature of the classroom, CVS could pose an upcoming threat for students at all levels of education. Because the internet is being used increasingly for school projects, and word processing tasks, today's students are being exposed to VDT at levels which today's working adults did not experience. The body of research on CVT has not been accumulated sufficiently enough to project what could be the result of increased computer usage at early ages, and whether or not the symptoms of CVT are cumulative. However, if early usage adversely affects the users ability to use computers, when today's students reach working age, the problems could cascade into significant obstacles to worker productivity.
The Physiological process which creates the syndrome
At home or at work, computers have become an integral part of our lives, and we use them more and more to accomplish personal and job-related tasks. They usually make things simpler (until the inevitable data crash). As a result, we have to spend more time in front of CRT screens watching pixels and electrons, and being subjected to higher amounts of CRT radiation. As a child, parents often told their children to not sit too close to the television because it could disrupt / damage their vision. Warning labels on microwave ovens instruct the users to remain a safe distance from the appliance while in use, due to the electromagnetic fields which are generated. However, in regard to the computer screen, we are limited to the length of our arms. As a result the muscles, tissues and nerve cells in our eyes must work harder, and are subjected to higher levels of electromagnetic fields.
While viewing a computer screen, our eyes must continually refocus in order to adjust to changing information on the screen. This process of continuous adjustment is unnatural for the human optical system. In a typical office, workers also routinely switch attention back and forth between the close-up screen and paper documents or publications on our desks, etc. The back and forth, near to far refocusing also places…