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Q
Computer Vision Syndrome?
What can I do to reduce eyestrain from sitting in front of a computer screen all day? Would bilberry extract help?
A
Answer (Published 3/29/2007)

Computer related eyestrain has become so common that it has acquired its own name, computer vision syndrome. Symptoms include sore, tired, burning, itchy, watery or dry eyes, blurred or double vision, headache and sore neck, and trouble shifting visual focus between the monitor and papers on your desk. You may also notice increased sensitivity to light or see color fringes or afterimages when you look away from the monitor.

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You may be able to reduce this discomfort by positioning your computer so that the screen is easier on the eyes. Place the monitor directly in front of you, between 18 to 24 inches from your eyes (about arm's length for most people). The top of the screen should be at eye level or below so that you're looking down slightly (you can get a sore neck if the screen is too high or too low). Your keyboard should be directly in front of the monitor with your reference materials placed at the same level, angle, and distance from your eyes. To minimize glare from bright lights, position your light source at a right angle to the monitor.

To reduce eyestrain, take periodic breaks from the screen and focus on more distant objects. Try to schedule a five-minute break every hour. Stand up and move around or just lean back and close your eyes for a few minutes. I also suggest relaxation exercises – do my relaxing breath several times a day. If your eyes are dry, you're probably blinking less than normal when you look at the screen. Make an effort to blink frequently. If that doesn't help, get some artificial tears available over-the-counter at any drug store.

You also might want to consider computer glasses, available with a prescription. These can help reduce eyestrain whether or not you already wear eyeglasses. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, glasses with Progressive Addition Lenses (PAL), which eliminate lines between segments of different focal power, are the preferred option. People who wear PAL have reported less distortion of peripheral vision than those wearing conventional multifocal glasses.

Bilberry extract can't hurt and might help. It comes from a dark blue berry that grows on shrubs found throughout Europe. It is a close relative of our blueberry, with more beneficial pigments. During World War II, Royal Air Force pilots reportedly found that their visual acuity, and especially their night vision, increased after eating bilberry jam. The flavonoid pigments in the fruit are responsible for these benefits. The effects are most noticeable in the first four hours after taking a 25 to 50 mg dose of the extract but wear off within 24 hours. Look for standardized bilberry extracts that specify flavonoid content.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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