Science is catching on to something college students have known forever: final exams are bad for our health.
According to statistics released by the BBC News, spending more time studying and less time outdoors in natural light is adversely affecting the vision of students. The BBC reported that 90% of people who had left school in Asia, and between 20-30% in the United Kingdom, suffer from myopia, or nearsightedness.
As for us across the pond, Good Morning America reported in 2009 that the percentage of Americans suffering from myopia had risen from 25% to 41% since the 1970s. GMA referenced texting as yet another factor that severely strains eyes.
The problems associated with nearsightedness go much further than simply the annoyances of contact lenses or glasses, and here’s where college students should pay attention.
Myopia brought about from eye-strain related to computers or similar screens often manifests into Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS.
The American Optometric Association says that CVS describes a group of eye-related problems brought about by prolonged computer use and that the intensity of these problems increases as time spent on the computer increases. And increase it has. The New York Times says that adults spend on average 8.5 hours per day looking at a screen.
That number seem high? Consider your own typical day: you wake up checking your phone, logging into Facebook, take notes on their laptop during class, answer a text, watch television, do homework again on your laptop, use your smartphone to tweet or take a photo, etc.
Kendal Lovett, a senior at Baylor University, considers the NYT statistic accurate as she considers her typical day on her laptop and with her iPhone.
“I think I spend between four to six hours a day on the computer. Luckily I haven’t noticed my visioning worsening, or at least I don’t think I have,” Lovett said.
Kelly Caprio, a freshman at Boston College, spends about the same time on her computer and phone as Lovett, but is not surprised that the national average is higher or that the computer can lead to health problems.
“I’m not really surprised that (time on the computer) leads to health problems, especially with the average number of daily hours so high. I think that we probably do spend too much time on our computers and phones, but it’s hard (to cut back) because we do so much of our school-work and social networking on the computer and online,” said Caprio. “Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest, not to mention email, texting and everything else is on a screen. We use our computers and phones for everything nowadays.”
According to the AOA, the most common symptoms of CVS are headaches, eye strain, blurred vision, dry eyes and neck and shoulder pain. The AOA says that most people will experience these symptoms temporarily after using the computer, but to be concerned if the symptoms continue to recur when not using a computer or noticeably worsen.
CVS is brought upon by improper position of the computer screen, papers and keyboard, in relation to the eyeball that requires unnatural shifts of perspective and focus. Also, the artificial light is an additional strain on vision.
While it might be difficult to greatly decrease the amount of time spent on your computer and phone, especially during finals week, the AOA has several easy suggestions and tips to prevent CVS.
1. Adjust the placement of your laptop, tilt of the screen and your own posture so that the computer screen is 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. Also, make sure you sit with your feet on the floor so your neck is in proper position.
2. Position reference documents and notes so you do not need to move your head to look from the document to the screen. The AOA suggests using a document holder to achieve the optimal position.
3. Rest your eyes when using the computer for long periods, specifically for every two hours of continuous computer use, rest your eyes for 15 minutes.
4. To minimize your chances of developing dry eye when using a computer, make an effort to blink frequently.
5. Make sure to get regular eye exams to ensure that worsening vision does not go untreated.
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