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The Science-Backed Approach to Defeating Computer Vision Syndrome and Keeping Your Eyes Happy!

Video Highlights

• Computer Vision Syndrome and Digital Eyestrain
• Neuromusculoskeletal Issues
• Neuropsychiatric Issues

Hi, I’m Dr. Eric Cobb of Z-Health Performance, and today we’re starting a little series discussing your vision and computers. We’re gonna talk about what’s called computer vision syndrome. Now, obviously with the advent of technology, our world’s changed tremendously. Don’t need to get any of that stuff. But what has also changed is our ability to deal with the stress of using computers, tablets, and phones all the time.

So for really the last 20 years or so in the research literature, they’ve been talking about what is known as computer vision syndrome. The reason this is important is that most people associate using a computer, a tablet, or a phone with eye strain, right? They’ll actually call it digital eye strain. People will complain about red burning, itchy eyes. At the end of the day, eye fatigue, things get blurry as the day goes on. But we’re now talking more in-depth about this because we start to see that there’s multiple domains. And what I mean by that is, yes, there’s gonna be visual symptoms with computer vision syndrome, but there are also musculoskeletal or neuro musculoskeletal issues.

So people, in addition to all the vision issues, we’ll talk about headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, low back pain. I also often run into people who are having things like carpal tunnel syndrome or radial tunnel syndrome, nerve issues showing up in the upper extremity.

So beyond that, we also are now seeing another kind of subpopulation of people who, after spending hours on the computer, are having what they call neuropsychologic or neuropsychiatric issues with anxiety, anger, kind of bursts of anger that occur very quickly, kind of a loss of emotional control, difficulty concentrating, difficulty focusing memory issues. And again, we’re seeing all these things associated with prolonged use of screens.

So, as I said, we’re gonna start a quick series on what to do about it. Now, the simple things that we’re gonna discuss today is just a, there are two measures that I want you to start thinking about, and the reason that we’re filming this outside by this beautiful palm tree under the blue sky, is because it’s actually a little bit warm here, is to remind you of rule number one, which is what’s called the 20 20 20 rule.

This has been around for a very long time, and it basically means that in order to give your eyes and your brain and your body a break from screens, you want to set a timer so that every 20 minutes you look away, or you get up and you look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Now, that is a, I’ll just say kind of a easy to remember tool, the 20 20 20 rule. It’s associated in the United States with 2020 vision. So it just, it falls easily into kind of a memory category for people. Now, is it ideal? No, 20 seconds is not long enough and 20 feet away is not long enough. It’s not far enough to really get your eyes to relax, but it is an easy thing to remember. So what we’re gonna suggest today is that you start setting a timer. The most difficult challenge of working with screens is discipline. You have to have the mental discipline to set a timer and then to do what you need to do to take care of your vision. So I’m gonna recommend that at least every 20 minutes you get up and you take a break, maybe go take a five-minute walk, but at a bare minimum, you need to stop focusing at that 18 to 24 to 28 inch distance, whatever it is that you’re using. You need to let your eyes relax, meaning look into the distance you need to breathe. You need to shake out some of the tension that’s built up in your neck and your shoulders, et cetera.

There are many reasons this occurs. Whenever we’re looking at something up close, our eyes often converge. We also are changing the shape of our pupils in order to see things clearly. And I’m gonna talk about that in some of the future videos because the pixels on screens make it very difficult actually for our eyes to function appropriately. So what’ll happen over time is that your pupils will often stay in a kind of more contracted state in order to make things clear, and there is a actual neurologic pathway from the eyes leading from the brain is the brainstem and down into your upper traps. These muscles here, that will increase tension over time. So you’re not crazy looking at your screens for a long period of time will actually cause your neck and shoulders to tighten up. So we need to take a break. That’s rule number one.

Rule number two is you need to remember to blink, and I know it sounds incredibly stupid, but there is a lot of research on this. Now, when we are focusing closely on something, digital screens and books, if the information we’re trying to consume is actually very cognitively challenging, we will go from a normal blink rate of somewhere between 18 and maybe 25 blinks per minute while we’re having a conversation with someone down to as low as four or five a minute.

Now, why that’s a problem is that we need to blink in order to maintain the tear layers on our eyes. When we stop blinking, our eyes dry out. That’s the simple answer here, or the simple explanation. So whenever you are two hours, three hours, four hours into your work project and you’re staring at that screen intensely and you’re not blinking, yes, your eyes are gonna burn, they’re going to itch, and over time, you can actually create damage to the surface of the eye from the drying out effect of not blinking. Many people associate that with what’s called dry eye syndrome, and a lot of people now are using drops and everything because it is an important issue because it really can make using your eyes incredibly uncomfortable.

So we have our 20 20 20 rule, and then we need to learn to blink and remind ourselves to blink. The easiest way to do this is to make blinking number one set done to a reminder. What I tell people is, if you’re using a desktop, there are a couple of apps out there, you can buy a one or $2 app that every few minutes will pop up and there’ll be a big blinking eye, and it should remind you to go, oh, yeah, I need to do my little blinking exercise. It is very, again, critical to recognize that blinking for most of us is almost 100% unconscious. We will not notice that we’re not blinking. And so what we need to do again, is have that reminder. I totally recommend the apps on the iOS platforms. It is actually called blinks, and I believe on Windows platforms. It’s also called blink training or something like that. So just look for that, spend the two bucks, because trust me, that’s way better than having to have your eyes worked on.

Now from there, last thing I wanna tell you is that when you’re practicing the blinking, we need to do it very intentionally because not only do we see in a lot of research a decrease in blink rate. More importantly, if you’re on a computer and you are, let’s say you’re still maintaining your 15 to 20 blinks per minute that you would in conversation, what will normally happen on the computer is you’ll blink differently. You’ll create what are called incomplete blinks, which means that you’re not actually fully closing your eye, and as a result, you’re still not distributing the tears over the surface of the eye.

So with that said, when you’re working on blinking, it needs to be a complete blink. Here’s how you do it. Your timer goes off. You’re gonna take 10 to 20 seconds and you’re gonna do two second reps like this. You’re gonna actually force yourself to close your eyes all the way, count to two, open your eyes, relax. Do that four or five times.

Then you’re going to repeat that, but now you’re going to close your eyes, count to two, and then you’re going to squeeze your eyes shut as tightly as you can for a count of two, and then open. If you’ve been on the computer for a long period, what you’ll actually notice is that when you do the squeeze blink, you’ll actually feel often tears beginning to form, or you’ll feel moisture beginning to form in your eyes. That’s a good thing. That’s what we’re trying to achieve. So again, don’t just see the timer go off and go, oh yeah, I’ll look away and I’ll blink a couple times. That’s not what we’re trying to achieve here. We’re trying to restore that tear layer, which means that we need complete blinks and then we often need to squeeze those tear ducts just a little bit.

Alright, so this is the start again of dealing with computer vision syndrome. And as I said, although I’m making it sound maybe a little oversimplified, this is a critical problem because most people are on screens somewhere between seven and 10 hours a day In the United States, the average in the United States is about seven hours and 45 minutes, or seven hours and 50 minutes a day.

Digital eye strain can begin occurring in under one hour. So we’re gonna see a progressive problem, progressive growth of eye problems, and this is what we’re again seeing in the literature and I see people complaining about it all the time. And remember, it’s not just about those dry uncomfortable eyes that are gonna need more work done on over time, but it’s also about your neuro musculoskeletal system as well as your ability to focus, concentrate, do your job and be nice while you’re doing it.

Alright. If you’re new to Z-Health, we are a brain-based education company. So if you’re a movement professional, make sure to check out all of our free resources. And if you know a lot of people that you know struggle with vision, make sure to share this with ’em because this is actually a really, really important topic. Over the next few weeks, we’ll get more into depth with some eye exercises, more information about how to set the contrast and font sizes on your screens. We’ll talk about different issues that can occur if you have astigmatism or myopia, et cetera, finish up with some other cool brain-based stuff.

So make sure to check back in in the next few weeks. All right, thanks.

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