For a lot of jobs, 99% of one’s workday is spent at the computer. Many people come in to our office complaining of headaches, strain, blurry vision, or general discomfort while staring at their screen. What’s going on is something known as an accomodative spasm. That simply is a nifty term for “your eyes are tired, pal.” It’s very common among lawyers, engineers, college students, accountants, etc. I live to read books, and this problem begins to effect my eyes after a few minutes. Let me explain what’s happening.
Inside the eye is a flexible disc-shaped lens that is surrounded by a circular muscle known as the ciliary body. The ciliary body behaves somewhat differently than most muscles that people think about. A typical skeletal muscle, such as a bicep, moves a bone around a joint similar to an actuator. When a bicep contracts it moves the forearm up. When a tricep contracts it moves the forearm back down. Since the ciliary body is circular, it makes a smaller diameter circle when it contracts and a larger diameter one when it relaxes. During contraction of the muscle, tension is relieved from the lens causing it to bulge. It’s like squeezing your fingers around the center of a balloon so that it bulges outwards at the ends. When the ciliary body relaxes, it adds tension to the lens causing it to flatten. The bulging of the lens helps us to focus at the computer while the flattening action helps us to focus far away.
A person’s nervous system stimulates these dynamic lens changes very quickly and beautifully. In most cases it responds perfectly to wherever we want our eyes to focus. However, when we stare at the computer or a book for extended periods of time, the muscle can become “locked up”. In this state it does not move as quickly or as seamlessly as when it’s fresh. I like to give the analogy of hold a 2 lb. weight with your arm. It’s very easy for nearly everyone, but after holding it for 8 hours one’s bicep is going to be screaming (or at least my tiny biceps would).
What does one do to get past this? My first recommendation is to quit your job and spend your days at the beach. That usually doesn’t go over too well. Aside from that, one simple exercise you can do is take eye breaks. About every 20 minutes, look 20 ft away, for about 20 seconds (20/20/20). Very quickly you’ll feel your eyes and some facial muscles relax. Other strategies are special contact lens or glasses prescriptions or in certain cases reading glasses from the drugstore. I find a solution that is as easy as possible for every particular patient’s needs. No treatment modality will weaken the eyes or make you reliant upon glasses. They simply take the demand that you place on your visual system and transfer it elsewhere. Shoot me an email if you need help or have questions. I’ll be happy to see you.
Spencer Ritenour, O.D.