2018-02-04 / Insight

Smartphones, computers present real health issues

810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com

LAPEER COUNTY — There are still workers who can remember a world that did not include glowing screens everywhere, though the number gets “We get a lot smaller every year. IBM introduced of eye strain the Personal Computer, and headache and coined the phrase PC, in It 1981 and three years later Apple complaints. rolled out the McIntosh. puts stress on

Ever since then, people have the eye’s had a love-hate relationship with focusing their computers and a growing system.” galaxy of electronic devices. Following the introduction of PC computers, there was a growing concern over eye strain and repetitive-stress injuries.

While the term “smartphone” has been around 20 years, the first iPhone hit the market in 2007, followed by Androidpowered phones a year later. The number crunchers at Statista reported that last year 68.9 percent of all Americans were using a smartphone and they predict that in five years 80.57 percent of us will be using the devices.

Candy Fillmore, an optician at Lapeer County Vision Center in downtown Lapeer, shows off some glasses designed to make computer use easier. 
Photo by Phil Foley Candy Fillmore, an optician at Lapeer County Vision Center in downtown Lapeer, shows off some glasses designed to make computer use easier. Photo by Phil Foley That has not come without its problems.

Dr. John Labaza, OD, an optometrist in Lapeer, said about a quarter of his patients complain of eye prob- lems as a result of using smart phones.

“We get a lot of eye strain and headache complaints,” he said.

Labaza said complaints from computer users have fallen off from when they were introduced in the early 1980s. He said that’s in part due to improvements in screen resolution and the quality of typefaces. Early computer monitors were monochrome (usually orange or green) and letters and numbers were displayed as a mass of flickering dots.

That made it difficult for people to focus and resulted in eyestrain. With smartphones, Labaza said, the problem is the screens are small and people tend to hold them too close to their face. “It puts stress on the eye’s focusing system,” he said.

He added, there have been a number of studies suggesting the blue light given off by mobile phones may not be good for your eyes. But he noted, “there’s been nothing conclusive.” Still, most optometrists offer lens coatings that absorb certain wave lengths of light.

Labaza said the biggest thing smartphone and computer users can do to lessen their chance of getting eye strain is “take a break.” He said regardless of what kind of device they’re using, people should spend five to 10 minutes every hour looking away at something else farther away.

Dr. Craig Watson, D.O., who along with Dr. Jeffrey Johnston, D.O., own Lapeer County Vision Center, said they’ve been seeing more people with complaints of eye problems. “We (people) don’t realize what we’re doing,” Watson said, “but people are spending more time on their phones, and they’re not getting away from it anytime soon.”

He noted that while computer screens have gotten better, they’ve also gotten larger. Watson said that means a lot of people who wear bifocals are unconsciously tilting their heads up for long periods, causing neck straine.

Optometrists, Watson said, are now offering computer or workspace glasses to address that problem. “I wear Eyezens. They help relax the eye,” he said.

The good news, Watson said, for the most part eyestrain isn’t a permanent damage. But he added, the bad news is, “There’s no way we’re getting away from our phones, they’re part of our life now.”

It turns out, said Brian Gilhool, a licensed therapist and part owner of Health Quest Physical Therapy in Lapeer, your nagging mother was right. Sit up straight.

He said in the decade since smartphones burst upon the scene, what people complain about hasn’t changed so much as where. As more and more people spend their days staring at their mobile phones neck pain complaints “have moved from the middle of the neck to the base of the skull,” Gilhool said.

The injuries he sees at Health Quest from computer and mobile phone use tend to be “death by a thousand cuts,” and they take as long to fix as they did to create. Gilhool said he recently had a woman come in with pain after years of working with a computer. “We got her a better chair, made some ergonomic changes at her work station and the symptoms are slowly correcting themselves,” Gilhool said.

The best way to avoid frequent trips to the physical therapist, he said is to “avoid the moody teenager posture.” Sitting slumped over with shoulders forward and chin stuck out, Gilhool said, is a recipe for neck and back problems.

Since smartphone use is a relatively new phenomenon, Gilhool said nobody’s sure about the long-term consequences of overuse. He said a lot of people complain of the pain now. “It will be interesting to see them in 30 years,” he said.

For both computers and mobile phones, Gilhool said his best advice is “sit up straight.” He added for mobile phone users, they should hold them in landscape mode, rather than portrait mode as much as possible.

He said problems caused by improper computer and mobile phone use are cumulative, so small changes today may have big benefits tomorrow.

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