health, medicine

Health Risks Associated With Extended Computer Usage

It has long been known that construction workers, mechanics, truck drivers and other blue collar workers were at risk for job related illnesses and injuries. However, white-collar jobs have always been considered safe. This is not so anymore. Now there are health risks associated with jobs where employees work all day at a computer. And the medical profession has even invented names for these.

These health problems affect a wide variety of occupational fields, even education. And a significant number of research studies have been initiated to investigate the problem.

For instance, Masayuki Tatemichi at Toho University School of medicine conducted a study in which 10,000 workers participated. Their age averaged 43 years and they reported vision problems. Five hundred had problems with peripheral vision and 165 had glaucoma. The study concluded that heavy computer users who were farsighted or nearsighted had increased risk for glaucoma.

A study in Bangalore, India surveyed twenty companies employed software engineers to identify common complaints originating from long-term computer usage. The most often reported were vision problems, back pain and other musculo-skeletal pain. Weight gain was psychological strain were also mentioned.

Another study of all primary and secondary schools in Otago and Southland, New Zealand found that 2/3 of the administrators, 30% of the principals and over 50% of the teachers had some kind of health problem related to computer use. Yet few were taking any preventive measures or participating in professional development to reduce risks.

The same findings marked the other studies. Although people were aware of the problems and their cause, the great majority was not taking any preventive measures.

Yet a Japanese study by Dr. Tetsuya Nakazawa of Chiba University concluded that computer use in excess of five hours per day was responsible for headache, eyestrain, joint pain, stiff shoulders, insomnia and fatigue. These results were consistent over a three-year period.

A case study with more serious consequences has been recorded by Dr. Richard Beasley of the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand. According to Dr. Beasley, people who use computers for long periods of time are at risk for developing ethrombosis. Said Dr. Beasley, “The association between prolonged seated immobility and venous thromboembolism is well recognized in relation to travel. The risk of developing VTE following sitting for prolonged periods at a computer has recently been recognized.”

The vision disorder due to excessive computer use has been identified as Computer Vision Syndrome. Symptoms are dry eyes, headaches, blurred vision, eyestrain, and shoulder back pain.

To alleviate the problem it is suggested that computer users take regular breaks, blink their eyes frequently, occasionally close their eyes for a few minutes and every fifteen minutes or so look away from the computer to stare at an object in the distance.

For the back pain and other muscular related problems, it is suggested that people get up every hour, stretch and move around for about five minutes. They should also do an activity which moves each foot and leg.

A computer user should be seated at least two feet away from the screen with the screen below eye level. Their chair should be comfortable and they should sit up straight in the chair with feet firmly on the floor. They should not cross their legs.

Since problems vary with individuals each person has to work out a prevention plan appropriate for their needs but it is important that people not continue to ignore the matter.

Companies particularly need to support their staff by allowing the needed breaks, providing healthful work areas, and educating employees regarding the risks and measures that can be taken to overcome them.