In the last “Office Job Hazards” post, I wrote about the hazards of sitting too much.  This time we’ll take a closer look (pun intended) at how reading or looking at a computer screen for prolonged periods of time can cause myopia (nearsightedness), eye strain, and dry eyes, as well as possibly contribute to macular degeneration.  Thankfully, there are several strategies to help prevent these problems.

Almost all of the hazards posed by working in an office or in an office-like setting (such as in school), revolve around repetitious movements that put too much strain on one area of the body.  Our bodies are meant to move around in and interact with living, dynamic environments.  Forcing our bodies to conform to the efficiency and uniformity of dead machines damages them.  An example of this is the strain and damage caused to the eyes by focusing at one distance for too long.  Every year, like other first world diseases and medical problems, myopia (or nearsightedness) continues to affect more people around the world.

While the mainstream medical community tends to focus on the role of genetics in disease and health problems, the evidence indicates that nearsightedness is primarily caused by environmental factors.  For example, a study of Alaskan Eskimos in the 1960s found that 60% of the children were nearsighted but that most of the parents and grandparents had excellent vision.  What changed to cause such an increase in nearsightedness?  The children were the first generation to begin schooling at an early age. Nearsightedness has also increased drastically in Asian countries, such as Singapore, where education and technological jobs are on the rise. In the U.S., myopia is estimated to affect 41% of the population.   With the increase in office jobs and education levels, more people are focusing at close distances for much of the day.

What causes myopia: Focusing at a short distance for long periods of time causes the eyes’ focusing muscles (ciliary muscles) to lock up (also called accommodation).  The stress of the ciliary muscles locking up causes the eyes to elongate, leading to permanent nearsightedness.  Children and adolescents are especially susceptible to developing permanent nearsightedness, as their eyes are still in the process of developing. To make things worse, they’re often prescribed distance glasses that can actually make their vision worse over time (by forcing the ciliary muscles to continue accommodating even at long distances).  Adults with clear vision are less susceptible to developing myopia than children, but if they engage in too much close work without taking the proper precautions, adults too can damage their vision.

Strategies for prevention: A number of preliminary studies indicate that it might be possible to prevent nearsightedness by wearing convex /+ reading glasses while doing close-up work (such as reading a book or looking at a computer screen).  The strength is supposed to be just strong enough to make the close-up text slightly blurry but still readable.  The theory is that reading glasses prevent the ciliary muscles from having to work too hard (accommodate), which prevents them from locking up.  As long as the ciliary muscles don’t lock up, the eye retains its normal shape and, therefore, retains normal vision.  For more information check out http://www.preventmyopia.org and talk to an optometrist who understands the environmental causes of nearsightedness.

In place of, or in addition to, using reading glasses, the symptoms of nearsightedness can be prevented by:

  • Spending more time outdoors (big surprise!), 
  • Resting the eyes while working (looking at different distances around the room), 
  • Using plenty of light while reading and working at the computer.  

Dry eyes and macular degeneration: While the evidence is less conclusive, looking at a computer screen all day might also contribute to dry eye syndrome and macular degeneration.  It’s possible to reduce the symptoms of dry eye syndrome by resting your eyes during the work day, drinking plenty of water, consuming enough omega-3s, and using eye-drops at night. 

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which causes blurry eyesight, is largely attributed to oxidative damage caused by exposure to blue-light.  Ultraviolet blue light is emitted by the sun, but it’s also emitted by electronic screens.  While the research is limited regarding how much computer screens contribute to AMD, we know that enough dietary consumption of vitamin A, lutein, and zeaxanthin can help prevent macular degeneration.  All three of these pigments (which are also called carotenoids) are concentrated in the eyes’ retinas and help filter out blue light and prevent oxidation.  Some of the best sources of carotenoids are spinach, kale, turnip greens, broccoli, and romaine lettuce.

We were designed to depend on God’s nature, rather than artificial environments, for optimum health (including clear eyesight), so EAT plenty of greens, Play outside, and REST your eyes from close-up work.  If you do a lot of close-up work, you might consider looking into the preventative measure of getting reading glasses.  Remember, children are especially susceptible to developing myopia.  Don’t let them sit too close to the TV (at least 6-feet away).  Also, if your child begins to develop myopia, do more research before you let the doctor prescribe him distance glasses.  Reading glasses, as counter-intuitive as it seems, are probably the better option and might even save your child’s vision.

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Originally posted 2013-01-09 05:03:00.

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