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Eyes on overtime

Optometrists nationwide see more than 10 million people a year for computer-related eye problems.

January 26, 2011|By Vicki Smith Paluch

Angela Hilliard, a forensics specialist with the Glendale Police Department, didn't know why her eyes were red and dry, or why she was feeling exhausted at the end of the day.

As a crime scene investigator on burglaries, robberies, suicides and the very occasional homicide, the four-year veteran of the department is out in the field collecting evidence, including latent fingerprints.

She returns to the department to read the fingerprints and view other evidence through a microscope or magnifier. Then, she writes her reports, keeping connected to a computer screen for up to five hours a day.


"The fatigue I had was not from the job; it was different," the 36-year-old said. "I had reading glasses, but I knew I needed something else."

She is just one of the 10 million Americans suffering from computer-related eye problems.

Optometrist Stacey T. Gin examined her eyes and fitted her with computer glasses, which assist the patient with focusing on monitors, which are usually placed 18 to 24 inches away from the user.

"My computer glasses have made all the difference in the world. They relax my eyes. I have no more headaches, and my eyes aren't dry and red," Hilliard said.

For decades office workers and professionals have been working on computers. But today we are a wired society, communicating via e-mail and text messages in our personal and professional lives. Our cell phones have gotten smaller and smarter, and then there's the iPad and e-reading devices such as Kindle.

As a result, optometrists nationwide see more than 10 million people a year for computer-related eye problems, according to VSP Vision Care, a not-for-profit eye care insurance company.

"We're spending more time in front of computers and other devices," said Gin, a VSP provider at the Glendale Optometric Center. "It's important to know that when you're working in front of a computer, you are blinking two-thirds less and producing fewer tears. You have to give your eyes a break."

The rule of thumb is 20-20-20.

"After 20 minutes on the computer or digital device, stare at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds," she said. "That relaxes the eyes and allows you to blink. When you stare, you dry out your eyes."

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