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Computer Use May Raise Glaucoma Risk

Spending too much time looking at a computer screen may raise your risk of the vision-robbing eye disease glaucoma (search), particularly if you’re nearsighted, according to a new Japanese study.

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that ultimately cause damage to the optic nerve (search). It can lead to blindness, if not treated, and can be screened for by eye health professionals.

More than 10,000 workers from four large Japanese companies were studied by researchers, including Masayuki Tatemichi of the environmental and occupational health department of Japan’s Toho University School of Medicine. The study appears in the December issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Participants told researchers how much computer time they logged in a typical day, as well as their long-term computer use history. On average, the workers were about 43 years old.

More than 500 participants had problems with their peripheral vision (search) (visual field abnormalities) as measured with visual field testing. Of that group, 165 were found to have glaucoma.

However, the number could have been even higher, since some participants with peripheral vision problems didn’t undergo all of the tests used to commonly diagnose glaucoma.

Heavy computer users who were farsighted (search) or nearsighted (search) seemed to have a higher risk for visual field abnormalities, say the researchers.

Nearsightedness was also noted in 136 of 165 participants with glaucoma.

The optic nerve (the nerve that’s responsible for vision) in nearsighted people might be “structurally more susceptible to computer stress,” write the researchers.

Concerned about safeguarding your eye health while using your computer? Expert advice includes:

—Take regular breaks. Looking away from the computer screen for five minutes per hour may help.

—Check your distance; sit 2 feet away from the screen. Position the computer screen below eye level (and sit up straight).

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD

SOURCES: Tatemichi, M. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, December 2004; vol 58: pp 1021-1027. WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: “Glaucoma: Topic Overview.” WebMD Medical News: “Computers Hurt Kids’ Eyes.” News release, BMJ Specialist Journals.