What is Computer Vision Syndrome?

Do you spend much time looking at computer screen and experience eye strain, dry eyes symptom or headaches? You are not alone. Those are only few symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome that is affecting millions of Americans each year.

Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), also known as Digital Eye Strain, refers to a group of ocular and visual symptoms associated with prolonged viewing of computers or other electronic screen devices. Sustained screen viewing is more strenuous to the eyes than reading a book or other printed text, because in addition to text content and images, an electronic device presents the added stimulation of flicker, glare, scrolling, pixilation, and moving images.

The common symptoms

How can you find out that you are having Computer Vision Syndrome? The most common symptom is called Accommodative Asthenopia, or “eye strain”. Sustained stress on the ciliary muscles (the ring of smooth muscle which focuses the ocular lens), causes fatigue, pain, blurry vision, and lacrimation. Other symptoms of CVS include dry eyes, irritated eyes, dizziness, slight nausea, orbital and frontal headaches.

CVS is one of the common disorders linked to the sedentary lifestyle of many modern workplaces. It often presents in conjunction with cumulative trauma disorders of the musculoskeletal system such as neck and shoulder pain, back pain, Carpal Tunnel Disorder, De Quervain’s Syndrome, or tenosynovitis. It may exacerbate or trigger migraine headaches, or significantly contribute to chronic stress and fatigue.

Potential long-term effects

Computer Vision Syndrome may be linked to increased risk of myopia (nearsightedness). There is insufficient modern research to conclusively establish this connection. However, research-based evidence clearly shows a drastic increase of myopia rates in recent years. One well-known study indicates the incidence of adult myopia in the United States more than doubled from the years 1999—2004(6).

Computer Vision Syndrome from a Tibetan Medicine Perspective

Did Tibetan doctors centuries ago know about Computer Vision Syndrome?

Yes! Well, ancient Tibetan doctors did not have digital computer screens. However, they certainly knew about accommodative eye strain, and how to treat it. Ancient Tibetans had a strong culture of academic study. Like today, there were universities and monasteries where students and scholars spent many hours reading and writing documents, often in dimly lit rooms, using very small print. As a result, doctors recognized the causes and effects of eye strain, and developed methods to relieve it.

Five-element etiology of Computer Vision Syndrome

To understand the Tibetan Medicine etiology of Computer Vision Syndrome, we must understand how the eyes and vision function according to the system of five-elements, and three elemental humors in traditional Tibetan Medicine.

Vision is powered by the fire element humor, called tri-pa

The physiology of the human body is governed by three elemental humors. The tri-pa humor governs all the functions of the fire element. Some of these functions include metabolism, mental emotional affects, and the function of vision. There are five divisions of the tri-pa fire humor. The tri-pa that empowers vision is called tri-pa thong jyed, the “sight-giving tri-pa”. As a function of the tri-pa fire humor, vision is vulnerable to overstimulation by heat, bright light, smoke, wind, and overuse. Prolonged exposure to a bright electric screen can lead to imbalance of our sight-giving tri-pa. This causes heat-natured symptoms such as dry eyes, irritated eyes, headaches, and nausea.

The eyes are the flowers of the liver

Each of our five anatomical sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin) are linked not only to their corresponding elemental humor, but also their internal organ system. The eyes are called “the flowers of the liver”. The liver and gallbladder are linked with the tri-pa fire humor. Damage to the eyes can contribute to imbalance of the tri-pa fire humor, and the liver/gallbladder systems. This leads to systemic heat-natured symptoms such as irritability, indigestion, loose-stools, headaches, fevers and insomnia.

Tibetan Medicine advice for Computer Vision Syndrome

In Traditional Tibetan Medicine there is a famous saying: “Lifestyle choices can bring a humble family to great fortune, or bring a mighty kingdom to ruin”. This means that using the correct behaviors for our daily lifestyle is crucial for maintaining health and happiness. So what are beneficial practices to avoid or correct Computer Vision Syndrome?

Take frequent breaks

The ancient Tibetan Medical texts explain that overusing, or improperly using your sense organs can damage their functions and imbalance your elemental humors. We must take care not to abuse our precious sense organs! If your job requires lots of computer time, then you should take as many short breaks as possible. By far the most effective method to avoid developing Computer Vision Syndrome, or to reduce its symptoms, is to cut down the amount of time you spend viewing a digital screen. At work, set an alarm reminder for a five-minute break every hour. Stretch. Breathe. Make your breaks a health ritual. Also, you should reduce your extra-curricular screen time. Limit your screen time at home, after work, on breaks and weekends. This includes all digital screen devices. Remind yourself that your free time is also “eye-resting” time, when you have permission to enjoy the non-digital world around you. You will soon discover that, compared to the searing glare of digital hyper stimulation, the outside world is a cool, sweet, restorative environment. Nature feels good, so go check it out!

Raise your eyes to the heavens

Several times a day at least, you should turn your gaze upwards to the horizon and the sky. Let your vision acclimate to an open, natural landscape. Then spend a few minutes just taking in the view. Adjusting your eyes to a landscape view helps counteract the effects of prolonged screen focusing. It is a restorative yoga for your eyes, and a meditation for your mind. Being under natural light, out in the fresh air, helps to balance the tri-pa fire humor, soothing the eyes and relieving stress. This practice works well whether you are in the middle of the city, in the suburbs, or out in the country. The colors blue, white, and especially green are intrinsic to the space, water and air elements. Thus they are naturally cool and soothing to the tri-pa fire humor. Viewing the blue sky, bright clouds, and fresh green plants is wonderful therapy for the eyes. It also relieves stress, strengthens the mind, clears the senses, and helps balance the elemental humors, especially the tri-pa fire humor. So relax your mind and turn your gaze up to the heavens.

Regulate your sleep habits

Healthy sleep patterns are very important for maintaining healthy vision. The eyes have a natural diurnal cycle, by which retinal function is optimized by regulated periods of rest and activity(5). During the day, the sight-giving tri-pa is active. The eyes are energized, dilated and perfused with fluid as they process visual stimulation. At night, the tri-pa fire humor “cool down”. Vessels contract, and fluid drains as the eyes shrink to rest in a dormant state. Irregular sleep habits can easily disrupt these natural cycles, and contribute to reduced retinal function. Staying up late staring at a bright electric screen disturbs the sight-giving tri-pa, and disrupts the healthy diurnal cycle of the eyes. So at bedtime, close the screen, draw the blinds, and invest in a healthy sleep cycle. Your eyes (and every other physiological system) will be very grateful!

In Summary

The ancient Buddhist sutras remind us that having a healthy human body is a fabulously rare and precious gift. One famous Buddhist cliché says that, being born as a healthy human is as rare as if one randomly threw a hoop into the sea, and a turtle came and swam his head up through it. If we are wise, we will prioritize taking good care of our precious bodies and their fantastic capacities. For many modern people, work and school demands long hours spent squinting at the glaring screen. But remember that maintaining our health is most important. Take lots of breaks. Spend time outside enjoying nature. Regulate your sleep cycle. Make time for a healthy, restorative lifestyle. Remember that your best investment is in your own long-life, health, and happiness. In this way, you will see a clear and bright future ahead!

CC BY 4.0 Photo Credit: Strudelt


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