Common health issues related to technology use

Young woman staring at computer screen

Original image  by Art Prestige studio.  © Used by permission

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Desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones… everyone’s on them! It would be probably safe to say that an average person spends at least three hours in front of the screen every day. And when you are a newcomer to Canada, they are indispensable tools (especially when equipped with the internet) for finding your way around, translating the language, looking for work – and more. This could mean that you may be staring at any one of these gadgets for most of the day.

Based on studies, if you spend four hours or more on the computer every day, you are a good candidate for health problems (or injuries) related to technology use. 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 can be 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 out and make them too fatigued to see properly. This can also cause vision problems because we make our eyes work harder when we view something really 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. He/She can prescribe the right 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 usually arise when you strain your muscles because of incorrect posture or non-ergonomic chairs. Combined with extended sitting, the result can be permanent damage to your neck and spine. To prevent this:

  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 of the hand and arm due to pinched or pressed nerves in the wrist. CTS 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 a weakening of the grip.

    To prevent CTS:

    • Be careful not to overuse your wrist when working
    • Adjust your mouse beside the keyboard and move your entire arm when moving the mouse. Having a good work area is important to prevent straining your hand and arms when using the computer
    • Doctors recommend taking frequent breaks and resting your wrist especially when you feel tired
    • Consult the doctor immediately when you feel CTS symptoms. This is important as 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, causes sleep deprivation. This is dangerous because it leads to other maladies such as chronic fatigue, heart disease, diabetes, and depression (read Why you should put down that tablet or phone if you want better sleep by David DiSalvo, Forbes). The best way to prevent this is to avoid using your gadgets at night. If you need something to do 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 to sedentary lifestyles. Recent studies show that sitting for long stretches is dangerous because we burn 50% less calories per hour when sitting (compared to standing), it reduces bone density, reduces blood circulation, and increases 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. Stop burying your nose in your computer or smartphone. Remember, going out and actually meeting and talking to people is also an effective way to get information.

If you experience one or more of these conditions related to technology use, go easy on your gadgets and check with your doctor immediately.

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.

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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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Common health issues related to technology use

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