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Posted on 11-18-2013

Step Away From The Computer And Keep Your Eyes Where I Can See Them

The human visual system was not intended for reading and computers. The original designer apparently did not foresee our fascination with the printed and then electronic word. Our visual systems develop and work best when there is action involved. The primary purpose of the visual process is to direct our actions. And action is a key ingredient in visual development. I recoil every time I see an infant or toddler glued to an iPhone or iPad, usually at a restaurant or in the waiting room of my office. These have become our new babysitters, companions and more and more a kind of umbilical cord to the world around us. These electronic companions are magnificent and helpful, but in many ways they are less wonderful than they seem. For now I just want to deal with the visual consequences of our ever-increasing connections to technology.

As I mentioned at the outset, the human visual system is less than perfectly matched for much of what modern humans do with it day in and day out. There is already a common condidition called Computer Vision Syndrome. According to the American Optometric Association, "Computer Vision Syndrome describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer use. Many individuals experience eye discomfort and vision problems when viewing a computer screen for extended periods. The level of discomfort appears to increase with the amount of computer use." The most common symptoms associated with Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) are eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain.

Behavioral optometrists began treating this type of condition, and similar problems and symptoms, long before there were computers, let alone the widespread use we see today. We have long known that close work causes many eye and vision related symptoms. What nobody else seems to know, or care to know, is that the reason most people who become symptomatic do so because they have an underlying eye movement, eye teaming and/or focusing issue that has gone undetected - even if they have been going to the eye doctor for annual visits for many years. This is because most eye care professionals are determined to remain unfamiliar with the concepts of visual development and visual stress.

Behavioral optometrists are well equipped to diagnose and treat the kinds of visual complaints that result from using computers yet many use computers in their vision therapy. Some merely prescribe a program of computer activities to be done at home. Others use computer programs to augment or as part of their in-office therapy. These approaches can be helpful in simple cases. The home program is particularly useful for those who cannot afford the time, travel or financial commitment of more intensive office-based vision therapy. I have never used computers in my vision therapy, though I have seen much of the technology at one time or another. I believe vision therapy that is less computer-based and more movement oriented provides more far-reaching and long lasting results.

I have been providing vision therapy for over 25 years. I am currently one of very few practitioners who personally provide vision therapy to every patient. Most vision therapy is carried out by therapists, some highly trained and others less so. I work with people of all ages with developmental delays such as children on the autism spectrum, reading and learning difficulties, computer vision syndrome, post-concussion syndrome, more severe acquired brain injuries and some who have no easy label but have significant symptoms or complaints related to over or improper use of the visual system. All of these people are likely struggling with developmental and/or stress-induced visual conditions. I enjoy working with all these people personally and taking part in their progress.

Next time: Step Away From The Computer And Keep Your Eyes Where I Can See Them, Part 2 Featuring Dr. Barry Cohen of Pittsburgh, PA

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