Computer usage and Dizziness
June 7, 2007 8:20 AM   Subscribe

A friend just started having dizziness, headaches and slight nausea when looking at computer screens.

The dizziness does not happen all the time and he doesn't notice any real patterns to it other than possible overuse. The onset of dizziness starts anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes of consistent computer use. Headache soon follows, often directly from the eye to the back of the head.

Reading on the computer is bad, but watching video is worse. After this happens, watching television can cause the same symptoms, but to a lesser degree.

Ophthalmologists suggested increasing the refresh rate on the screen, wearing sunglasses, getting anti-reflective coating on his glasses (prescription hasn't changed), decreasing the brightness and using eye drops. All of these have not helped. Also should mention that he has a slight dry eye syndrome and has been using eye drops for that.

Would appreciate any advice anyone has to offer on this because he's a student and this really limits his computer usage.
posted by steve.wdc to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does he use a variety of screens during the day, or just one? I have access to two computers here at work. One has a flat screen and the other is the older monitor type, that seems a bit convex. When I go from one to the other I get nauseated - happens every time. It's horrible; I always feel like I'm going to hurl. Headachy too. Same with my televisions at home - I have an older model where the screen seems slightly convex, and a large flat screen. I get the eye pain and nausea when going directly from one to the other. So if he could stick to just one style of monitor throughout the day it might help level him out.
posted by iconomy at 8:27 AM on June 7, 2007

Some older, CRT type monitors have a flicker that some people can actually see, and headaches are a common complaint. If he is using one of these, the flicker might be bothering him, even if it does not seem perceptible.
posted by yohko at 8:35 AM on June 7, 2007

The exact same thing happened to me, turned out my (CRT) monitor was dying: it was fine when first turned on but slooowly drifted slightly out of focus within 10 minutes and then just as imperceptibly, drifted back into focus. I thought I was going insane, the net result was feeling dizzy, nauseous and if I kept at it for longer than a half-hour, a headache and the feeling that "my eyes are not my own" for much of the day.

Ask your friend if it's only on the one monitor and if so, try sitting down at a different one (library, friend's house etc) to test if the symptoms reoccur in a new setting. It was incredibly difficult to catch the defocusing on mine, it was *that* subtle and slow.
posted by jamaro at 8:42 AM on June 7, 2007

Response by poster: He uses a laptop most of the time, but says that it can be worse when using a big old monitor.

The problem started while using the laptop, though.
posted by steve.wdc at 8:45 AM on June 7, 2007

Unfortunately, for reasons known only to them, Microsoft makes Windows default to 60 Hz refresh. That is visible to some people and it can cause all the symptoms you describe. 72 Hz is much better.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:16 AM on June 7, 2007

I don't have specific advice but I can give some general things to try. Try swapping around the color scheme. Some people prefer white on black or amber on pink or whatever. Try using larger fonts. Try sitting farther away (hard with a laptop, I know). Try adding ambient light in the room, especially behind the monitor.

One last bit. As a student, is he stressed out? This be an indicator of other stresses and might have nothing to do with computer screens. It might be worth looking a little beyond the monitor in front of him.
posted by chairface at 9:53 AM on June 7, 2007

Oops. "This be" => "This might be". I didn't mean to talk like a pirate.
posted by chairface at 9:54 AM on June 7, 2007

Sounds like stress related migraines to me. Does your friend also get sensitive to light when the headaches start?

My guess is there is only a correlation between computer use and headache onset. See a doctor about migraines, or learn to relax and deal with school stress more.

And, no, I'm no kind of doctor at all, just well acquainted with stress.
posted by Ookseer at 10:13 AM on June 7, 2007

You know IANAD, so let's get on with it.

Sometimes when I spend all night on the Mefi, I trigger a migraine.

My migraines usually have no noticeable trigger and happen every 6 months or so otherwise. I've "induced" one full blown migraine (with aura) by staring at the screen for hours, and one with aura and no headache. Sometimes the aura makes me a bit dizzy and nauseous because it distorts my vision so much. My headache also often spreads back, from my right eye (the stronger eye).

For what it's worth, I also suffer dizziness and nausea from a lot of old 3D games with lots of textures. Think Wolfenstein and Half-life type games. I had to train myself to withstand playing Half-life, but even now, when I'm not playing regularly, I get the intense nausea.

In short, the only thing I've done that helps is taking regular breaks and getting back at it once the 'attack' is over. He should start being able to stay on the comp for longer by training himself this way. At least, if he's anything like me.

Hope that helped!
posted by sunshinesky at 1:23 PM on June 7, 2007

I find switching my monitor to white-on-black does a lot to relax my eyes. I don't know if it's inherently more comfortable or if it's the change that matters, but it might be worth trying a change to the color scheme.
posted by Lady Li at 2:27 PM on June 7, 2007

It could be a result of tension in his neck and back muscles, particularly given that he usually uses a laptop. Most people don't have great posture when they use laptops in particular.

In addition to the refresh rate fix, try making sure that he is using his computer with an eye to ergonomics.

I used to have similar symptoms, but with a conscious effort at better posture and form when at the computer, taking frequent micro-breaks, and doing stretching exercises at least three times a day, I rarely have those problems anymore. I can tell I'm not doing well when pulling my head into my shoulders (like if I was a turtle pulling my head into my shell) produces a crunching sound. That's when it's time for an extended break.

On the other hand, my boss had some similar issues, and he actually passed out one afternoon in his office and we had to take him to the ER. He was diagnosed with BPPV. He is now doing much better, though, with regular exercises to clear the debris.
posted by gemmy at 4:15 PM on June 7, 2007

I have the exact problem iconomy has. Laptop at home, CRT at work, and if I use one for several days in a row and then switch to the other, my eyes will hurt and I'll feel sick to my stomach.
posted by salvia at 6:25 PM on June 7, 2007

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