By Jane Glenn Haas
RISMEDIA, November 1, 2010--(MCT)--Let's talk about Kindles and iPads and other new, bright LCD screens: Are the millions of Americans who have bought these devices setting themselves up for headaches, eye strains and other computer vision syndrome symptoms?
Smartphones and similar devices might cause vision concerns, says Dr. Roger Phelps, spokesman for VSP Vision Care.
According to recent research with VSP eye doctors, 33 percent reported that nearly one-third or more of their patients suffer from digital device related vision problems. The most common include eye strain (82 percent), dry or irritated eyes (74 percent), fatigue (70 percent) and headaches (61 percent).
Q. You say not many patients are aware of computer vision syndrome?
A. Two out of three eye doctors say fewer than 20 percent of their patients are aware of this syndrome.
Q. What's the difference between using a desktop computer and a Kindle or even a smartphone as far as vision strain is concerned?
A. OK. What happened in the past was you had regular eyeglasses for infinity — distance — and reading, about 16 inches.
Now there is a desktop computer screen, about 24 inches, that may require a separate pair of eyeglasses.
In addition, with a smartphone or the like, I can go to the website of, say, CNN, but it is really small. Some of these screens are best read at 12 inches — usually by a teen or someone under 40.
Q. Oh, come on! Only young people can read these small screens?
A. We can prescribe eyeglasses to read these screens, but they still must be held at a 12-inch distance from the eyes.
Q. So you are talking about eyeglasses for distance, 20 or 24 inches for desktop computers, 16 inches to read a book and 12 inches to read a smartphone screen?
A. We can prescribe progressive lenses.
Q. What's the easiest thing people over 40 can do to avoid these eye problems?
A. To protect your eyes while using your iPads, Kindles and so on, here are a few tips:
— Pay attention to environmental lighting. Reading on digital devices provides its own light but can be difficult to see in a bright light or when outdoors. Adjusting the angle and turning up the screen brightness all the way with the auto-brightness off can help.
— Don't forget to blink, breathe and break. Many doctors call this the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds and look at something 20 feet away.
— Use computer vision glasses. Even if you have near-perfect vision, these glasses can ease eye strain from prolonged use of a digital device.
— Get your eyes checked. Have an annual exam and talk to your doctor about your digital usage — especially if you are experiencing symptoms that include headaches, backaches, dry eyes and so on.
Q. What about using artificial tears products?
A. A lot of people get dry eyes as they get older. Sometimes they don't realize it's dry eye because their eyes are watering a lot. Actually, that can be a symptom as the eye tries to wash stuff away.
Check the brand you are using with your doctor.
Q. Why are these eye problems becoming more common?
A. People are spending about six hours daily working at a computer then doing other computer-screen reading — such as on the Kindle — for pleasure. Computer vision syndrome is up there with carpal tunnel problems and other work-related concerns.
(c) 2010, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.