AUSTIN -- It's hard to imagine what we would do without our computers and smart phones. While technology has certainly made our lives easier, there may be a physical price to pay for that information overload.
Vision doctors say they are seeing more cases of computer vision syndrome. Not too long ago optometrists called it near point stress, in which staring at your work computer for a long time would produce symptoms like eye, neck and shoulder strain.
Now doctors say the technological overload we encounter everyday makes just about everyone a candidate for computer vision syndrome.
At 53, graphic artist and illustrator Joel Hickerson still likes to stay in shape.
"You think about things like your physique and your flat belly, but you don’t pay attention to things like your eyes," Hickerson said.
About 10 years ago, Hickerson began noticing his eyes were always red.
"It’s because I’m rubbing them all the time, because they’re so dry," said Hickerson.
He said he also noticed he didn't blink as much when he worked.
"I’m drawing down here, but I’m looking at the screen," Hickerson said. "I’m afraid if I blink, I’m going to screw up the lines somehow."
Limited blinking and dry eyes along with blurry vision, headaches, eye strain and even neck and shoulder problems can all be symptoms of computer vision syndrome.
"When I started this practice 18 years ago, I would ask people, ‘How many hours a day do you work on a computer?’" said Laurie Sorrenson, O.D., an optometrist with Vision Source, a private practice optometrist network. “If someone said two to three hours a day you were like, ‘Ooh, you use the computer a lot.’ Well, don’t really ask people anymore.”
Sorrenson said it's now common for many of her patients to spend eight to 12 hours a day on the computer. She said smart phones also contribute to the problem.
"Most people, when they’re holding the phone, hold it much closer than they would if they were using a computer screen, and that causes more stress," said Sorrenson.
So, what can you do? Sorrenson suggests the 20-20-20 rule.
"That means every 20 minutes, you should take a 20 second break and look 20 feet away," Sorrenson said. "That helps relax your eyes, so you don’t have enough stress on the visual system."
Using different prescription glasses can also help. Sorrenson said most patients expect one pair of glasses to work for distance, computer and reading.
"Glasses just don’t work that well at every single distance," said Sorrenson.
Sorrenson said another contributor to computer vision syndrome is the blue light on computers and smart phones. She said research shows it negatively affect the body's natural sleep rhythms.
Go here for information on Lakeline Vision Source, and go here for information on the national vision source network.