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‘THE eye governs a very significant sense—the sense of sight—our windows to the world and our windows to life,” says Dr. Maria Imelda Yap-Veloso, an ophthalmologist at the Asian Eye Institute in Makati City.
The structures and functions of the eyes are complex. Each eye constantly adjusts the amount of the light it lets in, focuses on objects near and far, and produces continuous images that are instantly transmitted to the brain.
“Light enters the eye through the cornea, a transparent dome on the front surface of the eye. The cornea serves as a protective covering for the front of the eye and also helps focus light on the retina at the back of the eye. After passing through the cornea, light travels through the pupil, the black area in the middle of the iris. The iris, the circular, colored area of the eye, controls the amount of light that enters the eye so that the pupil dilates and constricts like the aperture of a camera lens,” The Merck Manual of Medical Information explains.
Behind the iris sits the lens. “By changing its shape, the lens focuses light onto the retina,” the Merck manual informs. “For the eye to focus on nearby objects, small muscles contract, allowing the lens to become thicker. For the eye to focus on distant objects, the same muscles relax, allowing the lens to become thinner.”
When a person enters the age of 40, something unusual happens. He begins to realize it takes a Herculean effort to read the newspaper or the tiny type on a food package or an aspirin bottle. As for threading a needle or removing a splinter—forget it. These simple tasks have become impossible feats.
“Normally, the lens change in shape to focus at near,” Yap-Veloso points out. “With age, there is a progressive loss of this elasticity, hence the difficulty in focusing at near with age. As there is an additional effort to focus what the person is seeing, eyestrain may result.”
Sometimes, the cause of eyestrain is a lot more serious than just passing the 40th birthday. “Strain can also be caused by eye misalignment, where one eye starts to turn in or out,” says Dr. David Guyton, professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland .
If that’s the case, the problem needs to be treated by an ophthalmologist who can suggest specific exercises, prescribe special prism glasses, or—if necessary—even perform eye muscle surgery to realign the eyes. Although eyestrain can be annoying, it usually isn’t serious and goes away once you rest your eyes. In some cases, signs and symptoms of eyestrain are a sign of an underlying eye condition that needs treatment.
According to eye experts, signs and symptoms of eyestrain include sore, tired, burning or itching eyes; watery eyes; dry eyes; blurred or double vision; headache; sore neck; and increased sensitivity to light
The main causes of eyestrain are poor lighting, glare and focusing the eyes for extended periods of time on a fixed object in close range. Eye muscle problems may also be a factor. “If the eye muscles don’t work together efficiently, this results to eyestrain,” explains Yap-Veloso,
In recent years, using a computer for long periods has been cited as one of the most common causes of eyestrain. This type of eyestrain is called computer-vision syndrome. Aside from those mentioned earlier, additional symptoms are trouble shifting your focus between monitor and paper documents, and color fringes or afterimages when you look away from the monitor.
Here are a few ways to restrain that eyestrain:
Adjust your monitor. Position your monitor directly in front of you about 20 to 28 inches from your eyes. Many people find that putting the screen at arm’s length is about right. If you need to get close to read small type, consider increasing the font size. Keep the top of your screen at eye level or below so that you look down slightly at your work.
Keep reference materials nearby. Place reading and reference material on a document holder beside your monitor and at the same level, angle and distance from your eyes as the monitor is from your eyes. This way your eyes aren’t constantly readjusting.
Pay attention to lighting. “Lighting conditions should be ideal whenever you read to minimize the effort to focus and see clearly. This is in order to prevent the quicker onset of eye strain,” explains Yap-Veloso. “Holding the reading material 30 to 40 cm away from your eye and having enough soft light coming from a source from behind or beside your shoulder would be good.”
Try timeouts from your work. After about 45 to 60 minutes in front of the computer, take a rest and try to relax for a few minutes or refocus your eyes at distant objects.
Put your eyes “on the blink.” Your eyes have their own personal masseuse—the eyelids. “Make it a point to consciously blink your eyes frequently and not squint,” suggests Dr. Meir Schneider, author of Self-Healing: My Life and Vision. “Each blink cleanses your eye and gives them a tiny little massage.”
Stop reading—and refocus. When you’re reading, stop every 30 minutes or so and focus on something far away for a few seconds. There’s a muscle in your eye that contracts when you’re doing close-up work. By refocusing, you relieve the spasms in that eye muscle. If you want something to look at, hang a sheet of newspaper on a far wall and try to read the larger print.
Exercise your eyes. Standing about 5 feet from a blank wall, have someone toss a tennis ball at the wall while you try to catch it each time it bounces off. Or hold your thumb out at arm’s length. Move it in circles and Xs, bringing the thumb closer, then farther away, as you follow it with your eyes.
Shut your eyes. Shutting your eyes for a few minutes—while on the phone, for instance—refocuses them and allows the eyes to relax, easing the strain. “Shutting your eyes also helps moisten them,” Yap-Veloso says.
Get a pair of reading glasses. “If you have good distance vision and just have trouble seeing up close, reading glasses are sometimes enough to cure eyestrain,” says Yap-Veloso. You can get reading glasses from your doctor or you can buy them from the shopping malls or department stores.
Avoid conditions that are not ideal for reading and eye work. Examples: moving vehicles, awkward positions and poor illumination. “All these lead to difficulty in focusing and, hence, produce eyestrain over time,” Yap-Veloso reminds.
Here’s a word of caution: If there are any dangerous symptoms, such as blurring of vision, redness and pain in your eyes, you should immediately see an eye surgeon. “You might be suffering from glaucoma, a dangerous condition which can potentially cause blindness,” Yap-Veloso warns.