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Health Q & A 

Kandace Power Graves discusses Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) with Chicago pediatric optometrist Dr. Cary Herzberg, in New Orleans last week to talk about a study he helped conduct dealing with computers and children's vision.

Q: What is CVS?

A: It's a whole slew of symptoms and problems, including neck strain, headaches, eye fatigue, blurred vision. Most people go through this if they work at a computer for long; the seriousness becomes a matter of duration. About 80 percent of people who spend two or more hours a day on a computer develop CVS if they work on computers long enough.

Q: Does it just hurt your vision or are there other health problems?

A: It's a musculoskeletal disorder. It's not uncommon for people to work on computers six to eight hours a day but not recognize the problems it causes unless there's a breakdown. There are some studies that indicate that productivity drops 40 percent when people aren't looking through the right prescription (eyewear) onto a computer screen. The pixels don't maintain sharp edges and your eyes are forced to constantly focus and refocus; it's a big problem.

Q: So looking from a paper on your desk to what you're typing on a computer screen causes strain?

A: Moving between distances causes tremendous difficulties in the eye. That seems to be our biggest challenge right now.

Q: How big a difference can a small prescription discrepancy make?

A: Sometimes you can be three-quarters to a full diopter (a unit to measure the refractive power of a lens) off if the doctor who does the test is just guesstimating the distance, but we're talking about numbers that can have a significant effect on a person. It causes a lot of eye fatigue and, in kids, myopia (nearsightedness).

Q: So what's the answer?

A: You need to find a doctor who uses the PRIO tester, the only machine approved by the FDA for computer-specific testing, and have them check you and your children.

Q: How big a problem is CVS and do people know they're getting it?

A: About 30 percent of the child population is susceptible to premature myopia due to computer use. Patients cannot tell they're getting the condition unless they have symptoms like headaches. But their eyes are fatigued all the time and they're losing productivity.

Q: So why don't we hear about a need for making our workspaces and eyewear ergonomic?

A: There's a strong lobby from the business community, which believes it will be expensive to correct and they've put it under the table. The truth is, for every $1 investment in eyewear, you get back $7 worth in productivity. Not addressing the problem is really shortsighted.

Q: Can the problem be taken care of with today's lenses?

A: They really need to be a special type of progressive lenses that deals with the needs (of focusing the eyes from one distance to another). Patients need to find out if their doctor is doing computer testing and is using the PRIO vision test.

Q: Are we evolving into a nearsighted society and is it genetic?

A: It's more adaptation. The human race isn't used to doing all this close work. In the process of moving from distance-type work, like the hunter-gatherer societies, to close work, [people] become nearsighted. The eyes make these adaptations because they don't want to constantly deal with the fatigue factor.

Q: How can we keep that from happening?

A: Test your eyes; correct it before it is a problem.

Q: Regular vision correction lenses and contacts don't necessarily help with computer work?

A: What people don't realize today ... is that 80 to 90 percent of their work is done up close. If they get their distance vision corrected, it doesn't help with that close work. It's something that's misunderstood.

Q: What's your advice?

A: You have to get a complete medical history. Sixty percent-plus of my practice is kids, and we do a five-year plan. You can't just do a quick exam; you need to take some time. You may choose to do vision training, prescribe computer glasses, we even get into diets.

Q: What about diet?

A: We find that diets high in processed foods, especially sugar, lead to nearsightedness. It also can lead to heart disease, diabetes, insulin-related diseases. I am convinced the insulin factor is a reason we're seeing all these problems ... and vast amounts of early myopia.

Q: So is it more environmental than genetic?

A: Very few people are born myopic. In the hunter-gatherer societies, nearsightedness affected about 1 to 2 percent; here it is 30 percent. I think it's an adaptation to the environment; it's the habits we've developed.

Q: Are the problems insurmountable?

A: If you get the right kind of eyewear as a computer user, it solves the problem. The whole issue revolves around what we can do to get the public more aware to ask their doctors for these things.

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