Common health issues related to technology use

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Desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones… everyone’s on them! It would be safe to say that an average person spends at least three hours in front of the screen every day (or probably more during this pandemic). This is why health problems or injuries related to technology use are on the rise. Here’s a list of the most common ones and how to prevent them:

  1. Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)

    This is the catch-all term for all screen-induced discomfort such as sore eyes, blurred vision and headaches. CVS is caused by prolonged computer use, especially when you don’t use proper reading glasses or when you have an overly bright screen. Staring at the screen can dry your eyes and make them too tired to see properly. Vision problems also develop because we make our eyes work harder when we view something up close for long periods of time.

    CVS can be prevented by wearing the proper eye gear and placing your computer at a proper distance. Also:

    • Check your screen settings to adjust contrast and brightness to a balance that is kind to your eyes.
    • Avoid glare by tilting your screen at a proper angle.
    • Don’t sit too close to your computer.
    • Look away from the screen every now and then to rest your eyes.
    • Blink to lubricate your eyeballs to prevent dry eyes. If you experience tearing or a burning sensation, see your eye doctor. You will need eye drops and a good eye care regimen.
  2. Back and muscoloskeletelal problems

    Back pain, neck strain, numbness of arms and shoulders and muscle fatigue are the results of straining your muscles. This is caused by incorrect posture or use of non-ergonomic chairs. Combined with extended sitting, these could do permanent damage to your neck and spine. You should:

  3. Watch this video from C/NET to know how to set-up an ergonomic workstation:

  4. Carpal tunnel syndrome

    This is one of the most common repetitive-stress injuries reported by computer users. CTS is a painful and debilitating condition caused by pinched nerves in the wrist. Sufferers experience pain, numbness and paraesthesia (a feeling of being pricked by pins and needles) on the hand and along the wrist, sometimes even extending up to the forearm. It can also cause your grip to weaken.

    To prevent CTS:

    • Don’t overuse your wrist when working.
    • Move your entire arm when moving the mouse. Having a good work area is important to prevent straining your hands and arms when using the computer.
    • Doctors recommend taking frequent breaks and resting your wrist especially when you feel tired.
    • Consult your doctor immediately when you feel CTS symptoms. Leaving it untreated can cause irreversible nerve damage.
  5. Sleep deprivation, stress and depression

    Extended exposure to blue light coming from smartphones, tablets and other gadgets especially at night can cause sleep deprivation. This is dangerous because lack of sleep can lead to other illnesses such as chronic fatigue, heart disease, diabetes and depression. Prevent this by not using your gadgets at night. Stop checking your smartphone at least 30 minutes before going to bed. If you need to relax before bedtime, read a good (printed) book.

  6. Obesity

    People who work for long hours on the computer are prone to extended sitting and sedentary lifestyles. Recent studies show that sitting for long stretches is dangerous because we burn 50% less calories per hour compared to standing. It can reduce bone density, reduce blood circulation and increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer (read What are the risks of sitting too much? by James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D. for Mayo Clinic.org).

    Dr. Levine recommends the following to minimize extended sitting and increase muscle activity:

    • Stand or walk whenever you have the chance. For example, stand while talking on the phone or take short walks while on a break.
    • Use a standing desk or a treadmill desk at the office or in your home office.

The key word is balance

Just remember, too much of anything is bad for you. Remember to regulate computer and gadget use and avoid using them at night. Get enough sleep, pause, stretch and exercise. Take a walk outside, work out in your basement or do some gardening to add variety to your routine. If you experience one or more of the mentioned conditions related to technology use, go easy on your gadgets and check with your doctor immediately.
 
Article updated May 11, 2020.
 
Sources: You asked: Can computers really ruin my eyes? by Markham Heid for Time Magazine; About the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from the Health Site.com; and Why you should put down that tablet or phone if you want better sleep, David DiSalvo, Forbes.

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Community Resources

For other heath tips related to computer-use, read Health tips for computer users (or 6 ways to avoid dying on your desk).

Know more about The Health hazards of sitting by Bonnie Berkowitz and Patterson Clark for The Washington Post. The poster is downloadable to remind you to get moving!

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