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MS and Screen Fatigue

By Matt Cavallo

I received an email from my cable company the other day saying I had used 75 percent of my Internet for the month and that once I hit 100 percent, I could expect surcharges. My first thought was I never knew that there was a data limit for my home Internet. That must have been part of the fine print I didn’t read when I signed up. The next, and by far more troubling thought, is how much time am I spending in front of my computer and could that possibly be good for me?

Even in nonpandemic times, we were starting to trend towards a completely connected society that has been accelerating since the early 2000s. Back around the turn of the century, most work had shifted to computer-based. A 2003 Bureau of Labor report said 77 million people, or 55.5 percent of the workforce, used a computer for work. By 2012, Forrester reported that 66 percent of employees use two or more devices. With the jobs shifting towards technology, more and more people are reliant on screens from the time they get up until the time they go to bed.

No industry is safe. I remember when I was moving to Arizona in 2009, I had to go to every doctor, neurologist, hospital and MRI center to get copies of my medical record. When I first saw my neurologist in Phoenix, I gave him more than 1,000 pages of medical documents and huge boxes of MRI films. Today, I carry that personal health information on a thumb drive. Paper medical records have been replaced by the Electronic Medical Record and we all have portals that we can log in to see our health information. This wasn’t the case just 10 years ago.

No matter what, we cannot escape screens. They are intertwined into the very fabric of life. Because our lives and our work have shifted to this electronic medium, we have become dependent on these devices. This is exacerbated by the pandemic keeping us home, increasing our screen time as the only way to stay connected to the outside world. One of the big risks of the screen dependency, however, is screen fatigue. There are many different health effects that can come from screen fatigue, all of which are problematic for those of us living with MS. The most common is computer vision syndrome.

Computer vision syndrome is also known as digital eye strain and it is the result of prolonged use of computers, tablets, and phones. Your eyes have to work harder to see on these devices. Fonts are constantly changing size and shape from website to website, the distance and lighting also changes from device to device. The angle of the device and your posture when using the device can also create this strain or fatigue on your eyes.

CVS can lead to symptoms such as eye strain, blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches, and neck and shoulder pain. As someone who has had optic neuritis in the past, I find that these symptoms can be amplified for me. I often have trouble concentrating on the computer screen. I need my fonts to be larger and the screen to be lit properly for me to see. I am experiencing headaches on a regular basis, when I never used to get them. The more I am on a screen, the worse these symptoms become. Living with MS, I don’t need another eye problem, so I am starting to take screen fatigue seriously.

Tips for Overcoming Screen Fatigue with MS

* Consider blue light glasses or anti-glare screen. Blue light glasses cut down on the amount of glare from the LED and florescent lights created by screens. Also, adding an antiglare screen can cut down on the amount of blue light your eyes are exposed to.

* Try to stay 20 to 30 inches away from the screen. This is especially hard with phones and tablets that we tend to read close to our face, but keeping a safe distance will minimize eye strain

* Take a break. It can be hard to pull yourself away, but you should really try to give your eyes throughout the day.

* Set up an ergonomically correct workstation. Whether you work at home or in an office, make sure your chair is set up comfortably and correctly. Also, check to make sure the computer is positioned appropriately on the desk so you have a proper and comfortable viewing angle without straining your eyes, neck or shoulders.

* Use drops for dry eyes if needed.