March 24, 2009 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Does computer work really permanently harm your eyesight?

I recently got my first pair of glasses for seeing things far away. During my exam, the eye doctor said, "using a computer a lot can hurt your eyes permanently because your eyes get used to focusing at short distances".

However, while I have heard this statement repeated over and over again, I have never seeing any authority source sayings that computer use will permanently hurt your eyes.

I found many authority sources about temporary eye-strain, but all of them made clear that the problem was short term.

Anyone know of authority sources (Mayoclinic articles, WebMD articles etc...) stating that computer use can permanently hurt your eyesight? Or is this just a widely believed rumor?

Thanks in advance!
posted by chrisalbon to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a doctor, only speaking from my personal experience, I wouldn't know where to look for a medical journal substantiation.

When I was young, I was diagnosed with a predisposition to be far sighted. The eye doctor told my mother that I would require glasses later on in life to read.

I'm now 30 and because of constant and consistent working on computers, I am most definitely near sighted, able to see only up to 5 feet clearly, beyond that is a blur. I require glasses to drive and do most things like going to the movies.

I doubt this is temporary.
posted by eatdonuts at 9:46 AM on March 24, 2009

hmm, according to this this
Hereditary or genetic mechanism plays an important role of causing the vision problem. However, there's evidence that one major environmental contributor is close-up work. Researchers have observed that an increased literacy rate in a population is often followed by a dramatic rise in the rate of myopia, says Karla S. Zadnik of Ohio State University's College of Optometry in Columbus.

When we do close-up work, such as reading, using computers, watching TV, the eye muscles that work with cornea and lens become intense, and the eyeball elongates to make the image form exactly on the retina. If this situation lasts for too long, the eye muscles cannot relax any more, and the misshaping becomes permanent, and we get Myopia.
this page makes it seem like the connection is not as clear.

About 30% of the people in the U.S. are nearsighted. About 60% are farsighted, and this is probably due to the fact that people just become farsighted as they age (and therefore require reading glasses, or bifocals)
posted by delmoi at 9:51 AM on March 24, 2009

My eye doctor says that after you have experienced the normal degeneration of eyesight that comes with age, your eyes will start to improve. But she has discovered that heavy computer use seems to "cancel out" that improvement.
posted by Zambrano at 9:55 AM on March 24, 2009

And it's not just a computer, but spending a lot of time looking at anything close. You'd be better off buying a huge monitor and sitting far away from it then you would reading a book, at least in terms of.

And of course wikipedia has a good section on our current understanding of what causes myopia (there is a lot of conflicting research, apparently) and many people think that some people have a genetic predisposition to get it, but still need the environmental factors as well. The wikipedia article has lots of footnotes for you to look through if you want.
posted by delmoi at 9:56 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Everything I've read recently about the subject indicates the opposite, i.e. short term eye strain does not cause permanent damage. Here's an article I turned up with Google. Anecdotally agrees with the fact that I've been staring at computer screens for 20 years without significant degradation in vision.
posted by knave at 9:57 AM on March 24, 2009

This review from 1996 involved a literature search and claimed there was no compelling evidence that use of visual display terminals significantly increased myopia risk over other kinds of office work (which it seems would involve some similar kinds of eyestrain). The comparison against not doing that kind of work I know not.
posted by grouse at 10:13 AM on March 24, 2009

I have similar concerns as I use a computer 10-15 hours some days. After a few hours I get AWFUL double vision and triple vision. The images are stacked on top of each other like if I am looking at a car moving towards me, I will see two stacks of 3 lights. It stays that way until I give my eyes a LONG break. It seems to go back to normal eventually but it is starting to take longer to get better.
posted by Studiogeek at 10:13 AM on March 24, 2009

anecdotal data point, I am extremely myopic & astigmatic, started glasses in kindergarten, and have worked with computers for decades. I never experience the kind of problems studiogeek describes while coding for 12 hours straight, BUT I almost never play my xbox-racing games anymore, because I would find myself not blinking, and drying my eyes out to a painful extent. YMMV.
posted by nomisxid at 10:27 AM on March 24, 2009

I don't have a source (And it's a good question...) but I was under the impression it was the close focusing, not video related eye strain that was the cause. Thus the stereotype of scientists, librarians, watchmakers, etc with glasses. If it is a myth it's a pretty well rooted one. When my sister, an artist, got her glasses she was told that her close-up work was to blame.
posted by Ookseer at 10:52 AM on March 24, 2009

I am nearsighted. During my IT career, my optometrist recommended progressive bifocal lenses because of eyestrain from all-day up-close screen time. A while after I stopped working, my eye exam showed that I didn't need them anymore, so now I'm back to regular nearsighted lenses. Just another anecdote in support of the 'temporary' theory.
posted by candyland at 11:03 AM on March 24, 2009

As another anecdotal data point, I've doing computer and other close-up work for 20 years as well and my close vision has gotten worse, with little to no change in distance vision. I began life as a farsighted astigmatic, and I can safely say that I see worse close up than before. I assume this is because of normal age based vision degradation.
posted by mollweide at 11:11 AM on March 24, 2009

Here's the chicken research.

Here's the monkey research.

(No, the chickens weren't doing hunt-and-peck data entry, and the monkeys weren't word processing Shakespeare.)

Basic answer seems to be yes, it could, but there's the research, you can make up your own mind.

(My own take on it is that if you do lots of close up work, your eyes adjust, and become nearsighted - as noted previously. Why does it appear to affect some people and not others? Maybe genetics; or maybe it's how you use your eyes, whether you take breaks, whether you get close or extremely close, your diet, how much time is spent really focusing close vs being relaxed and focusing on infinity ... (and this gets complicated). And why is the adjustment one-way ... )
posted by coffeefilter at 12:32 PM on March 24, 2009

I just went to the eye doctor last year for the exact same reason. I'd never worn glasses in the past and lately had been feeling the same way. Things in the distance are blurrier than they had been. I tried on my wife's glasses and things immediately became clearer, but not for long.

The doctor told me that my eyesight had not worsened, but that the eyes were relaxing because of all the indoor, computer intensive work. The glasses only help for a short while because my eyes were forced to adjust so quickly. He told me that I did not need glasses and that I should take a break every couple of hours to look off in the distance. He also told me to stop wearing my wife's glasses, lol.
posted by cdmwebs at 12:35 PM on March 24, 2009

To help mitigate the effects of prolonged close focus work, you're supposed to have a... thing... that dings or whatever every 5 minutes to remind you to glance up and re-focus in the far distance. I look at the far wall in the neighbours back yard. It takes a fraction of a second and doesn't impair my concentration at all.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:26 PM on March 24, 2009

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