The world has changed. The way we work, the way we learn, and the way we socialize has all changed due to COVID-19. Have you thought about how those changes put stress on your visual system? One major difference in the average lifestyle is an increase in computer use. Looking at a computer for extended periods of time can exacerbate existing visual problems or trigger new visual difficulties, including accommodative spasm, strabismus (eye turn), and post-concussion visual processing deficits.
Accommodative spasm is often triggered by too much reading and computer use. It is more commonly an issue in younger populations, especially school aged children. Accommodative spasm is a failure to accurately relax the focal system of the eyes, and can mimic an increase in myopia (near-sighted-ness). Symptoms of accommodative spasm include headaches, difficulty focusing at a distance and up close, visual ‘swim’, reduced attention span, and fatigue. A good way to reduce the occurrence of accommodative spasm is to take breaks from computer and close up work to do a distance activity or an activity that alternates between near and far. An example of an alternating activity would be to paint or draw a landscape that you can see from your window (but not from an existing picture).
Strabismus can be exacerbated by increased screen time and close up work. The increased binocular demand of close up work can be too much for those with pre-existing conditions. Turning an eye, or suppressing an eye, decreases the binocular integration that the brain has to achieve, effectively reducing the amount of work the person has to do in order to see. Screen time in particular has no binocular demand, making it even easier to suppress an eye. Taking breaks from screen time to do binocular activities, such as playing catch, badminton, Jenga, or stacking cards/cups is a great way to re-engage the binocular system.
Post-concussion visual processing deficits cause a range of symptoms including headaches, loss of balance, nausea, blurred vision, reduced visual attention, reduced visual comprehension and retention, and fatigue. These symptoms are often triggered by computer use, especially movement on the screen and switching between tabs/windows. Methods to reduce post-concussion symptoms include passive vision therapy (specialty glasses), reduced computer time, reduced screen brightness, and reduced stimuli environments. When possible, screen time should be avoided if the post-concussion visual deficits have not been treated.
If simple exercises are not enough to relieve the symptoms, vision therapy, also called neuro-visual rehabilitation, is able to treat the underlying condition. COVID-19 may have changed the way we work and play, but it need not cause more symptoms from visual deficits.
For more information on vision therapy, visit our website or call our office.