Feel free to periodically look away from this story (and the computer monitor you’re reading it on) if you need to rest your eyes.

March serves as an important time for vision education. The American Optometric Association (AOA) is using Save Your Vision Month to promote healthy vision at the computer. Prevent Blindness America is using March to promote Workplace Eye Health and Safety Awareness Month, encouraging workers in all industries to protect their eyes now and to ensure healthy vision in the future. Also, March 6, 2008 was the first World Glaucoma Day, bringing attention to the second most common cause of blindness worldwide.

According to AOA’s fall 2007 “American Eye-Q” survey, which identified American’s attitudes and behaviors regarding eye care and related issues, 42 percent of respondents use a computer and/or handheld devices such as a PDA three hours or more per day.

People who use computers often may suffer from computer vision syndrome, leaving them vulnerable to problems like dry eye, eyestrain, light sensitivity, neck and back aches and fatigue, according to AOA.

Forty-one percent of respondents to AOA’s survey said they have experienced eye strain and 45 percent cited neck or back pain after prolonged computer or hand-held device use.

People might experience neck aches because their monitor is not positioned well, said Charles Haine, OD, MS, associate dean of clinical affairs for WesternU’s College of Optometry. Computer users should intermittently look away from the monitor, he said. AOA recommends looking away from the computer every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.

Computer users should be aware of visual hygiene – making sure lighting is correct and keeping a reasonable distance from the monitor, said Daniel Kurtz, PhD, OD, WesternU College of Optometry associate dean of academic affairs.

WesternU students spend plenty of time on their laptops, and they should pay attention to these suggestions even if they do not have problems now.

“Even at a young age, developing good visual hygiene habits is important,” said Elizabeth Hoppe, OD, MPH, DrPH, dean of WesternU’s College of Optometry. “If you learn these habits at a young age, it’s going to help you.”

Computer vision syndrome is an important issue for employers as well as the employees who may have it.

“Supervisors have to embrace and promote good visual hygiene in their staff,” Kurtz said.

Computer vision syndrome causes symptoms for the user, but they also affect productivity, said Kent Daum, OD, PhD, AOA optometrist and vice president and dean for academic affairs at the Illinois College of Optometry.

“Just slight changes in productivity have the potential to have a dramatic impact on the bottom line,” he said. “We have a whole cadre of safe, effective, relatively inexpensive ways to deal with these problems, so I see it as an issue that affects all of us. We can fix it.”

The screen image should be sharp and clear, without glare. The computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level (about 4 or 5 inches) as measured from the center of the screen, and 20 to 28 inches from the eyes, according to AOA.

But safety in the workplace includes more than just proper monitor positioning. More than 800,000 Americans suffer eye injuries at work every year, resulting in more than $300 million annually in lost production time, medical expenses and worker compensation, according to Prevent Blindness America, an organization dedicated to fighting blindness and saving sight through public and professional education, advocacy, certified vision screenings, community and patient service programs and research.

Ninety percent of all eye injuries are preventable by wearing the proper eye protection, according to Prevent Blindness America, which promotes March as Workplace Eye Health and Safety Awareness Month.

“Our vision is something that so many people take for granted until it’s damaged,” Daniel D. Garrett, senior vice president of Prevent Blindness America, said in a written statement. “We hope to encourage employers and employees to make sure that eye protection is on the ‘to do’ list every day.”

Eyeglasses do not count as safety eyewear. The mucosal membrane can transmit infection through a splash if you’re working with animal or human body fluid, so proper safety eyewear is important, Hoppe said. People should also develop the habit of wearing UV protection for their eyes, she said.

March also serves as a time to raise awareness of glaucoma, a group of eye diseases that cause progressive damage of the optic nerve at the point where it leaves the eye to carry visual information to the brain, which may lead to blindness. As many as 50 percent of affected people in developed countries are not aware of having glaucoma, a figure that may reach 90 percent in underdeveloped countries, according to the World Glaucoma Day Web site, www.wgday.net.

Glaucoma is known as the “silent thief of sight” because there are no symptoms, Kurtz said. Glaucoma cannot be cured, but early intervention can help preserve a person’s vision, he said.

“It’s only through an eye exam that it can be detected,” he said.

All of these educational opportunities emphasize a simple point.

“It’s never wrong to get regular eye exams,” Kurtz said. “You don’t need to have symptoms to have an eye exam.” 

 

For more information about WesternU’s College of Optometry, visit the Web page www.westernu.edu/xp/edu/optometry/welcome.xml

For more information about Save Your Vision Month, visit www.aoa.org/x5072.xml

For more information about Prevent Blindness America, visit www.preventblindness.org

For more information about World Glaucoma Day, visit www.wgday.net