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Can you see ok?

Prolonged use of computers, cell phones and Blackberries is affecting the eye and vision health of Canadian baby boomers.

A survey conducted by Leger Marketing indicates, on average, baby boomers (now are between the ages of 63 and 44) are spending 7.5 hours daily in front of these potentially eye-straining devices. The survey found optometrists are seeing more patients with eye-strain symptoms than they were five years ago, and that 40 percent of baby boomers, higher than that of other age groups is associating eye and vision problems to extensive computer use.

Although the study found baby boomer women are more likely to be affcted by computer vision syndrome (CVS), Sudbury optometrist Dr. Kevin Roy, says men and women are equally prone to eye strain and other effects of staring at a computer screen for hours at a time.

The symptoms of CVS, can include: * Difficulty focusing * Dry eyes, perhaps due to hormonal changes in women, and from not blinking enough. * Irritated and/or itchy eyes * Eye strain and fatigue * Over sensitivity to light (photophobia) * Neck pain * Blurred vision * Headaches Roy says people don’t have to suffer and that there are solutions. An exam, performed by an optometrist, is the first step. The symptoms of CVS can be treated with a prescription for progressive addition lenses, as well as for bi-and tri-focal lenses. Vocational glasses made for a patient’s specific type of work and have an anti-reflective coating are the best choice, he says. Not for driving or watching TV, they’re only for computer or other near-task work. Other ways to relieve CVS symptoms include: * Adjust the screen to slightly below eye level. * Adjust screen bightness and contrast. * Stop to take a break. Look at something in the distance for a moment. * Change tasks, if possible. * Make it a point to blink more often while at the computer. * Buy moisturizing eye drops at the pharmacy to relieve dryness (not commercial eye drops for redness or allergies as they contain unwanted chemicals.)

Roy says everybody runs into presbyopia, or difficulty focusing; however, it isn’t noticed until people are in their mid-40s, struggling to focus on computer screens. He says although it’s great they’ve embraced new technology, what surprises him is the number of computer-savvy patients in their 70s whose eyes can’t focus anymore. Roy is also seeing more instances of “myopia” or near-sightedness in children. Probably a by-product of video game playing and computer use, he says. He recommends eye exams for children between six months and three years old, an annual eye exam until the age of 20, then every two years after that.

He also recommends an annual eye exam once a person reaches 60. If an optometrist or family doctor believes something more serious is affecting the eyes, such as cataracts or glaucoma, he will refer patients to an ophthalmologist (eye doctor). He says although many eye conditions don’t provide discomfort, some, such as glaucoma, for example, are serious eye diseases that can lead to blindness. Loss of vision occurs slowly, and some people aren’t even aware of it happening. An optometrist can also detect diabetes, brain tumours, heart disease and high cholesterol, hypertension and cancer of the eye. One issue Roy is adamant about is people buying the over-the-counter reading glasses.

He says people have to realize there are compromises in quality. These “buck-store” glasses are never going to be as good as glasses prescribed for you.” People’ eyes are different from right to left. In these glasses, both the right and left eyes are treated the same. Most people have some form of astigmatism, and these glasses never compensate for this, he explains. The mass-produced glasses are never centred properly for people’s eyeballs, which are normally 64mm apart. The glasses work, they’re handy, and they’re cheap, but aren’t to be used for an extended period of time, he says.

Local optometrist, Dr. Tony Kusnierczyk says doesn’t have a problem with over-the-counter reading glasses, as long as wearing them doesn’t preclude an eye exam.

“There is value in getting an eye exam,” he says.”It’s not just about getting checked for glasses. As baby boomers are certainly more conscientious about their health, I have people telling me to do what I have to do to keep their eyes healthy. There were more complaints 15 years ago about eye strain and glare from video display terminals.

Now, computer screens have better resolution, he says. He does see more patients complaining of tearing and watering eyes, and recommends vocational glasses to patients exhibiting symptoms of CVS.

“They work really well,” he says. “Everyone I’ve ever given them to loves them.”

One thing he is adamant about is that some people play squash and hockey without proper eyewear. Both he and Roy recommend sunglasses be worn 12 months of the year, as Ultraviolet rays from the sun reach us year round. UV ray damage to eyes can cause cataract formation.

In his ophthalmology practice, Dr. Curtis Sorgini doesn’t see a lot of people with CVS, but agrees both men and women are susceptible to the harmful effects of the prolonged use of electronic devices. He says that people, who perform near-task work, such as a jeweller, seamstress, as well as those glued to video games or to a computer screen, need to take a break, look up, and focus on something at a distance. Sorgini says not taking adequate breaks could lead to CVS symptoms including posture troubles and muscle aches. At least we don’t have to worry about sitting too close to the TV anymore, Sorgini says. The new flat LCD (Liquid Crystal Diode) TVs have an anti-reflective screen so glare is no longer a concern. He says the new televisons don’t emit harmful electrons, as did televisions from the old days.

But the increase of patients with cataracts does have him concerned. He says he is not sure why this is, pointing to inadequate diet and lack of exercise as probable factors. He recommends having eyes examined by an optometrist if you experience any CVS symptoms. Prices for an eye exam for adults, not covered by OHIP since 2004, vary from $60-90. Children, seniors and those with certain eye diseases are covered, as well as most recipients of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

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