Could spending a lot of time in front of a computer be increasing your risk for glaucoma? A new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health says yes, but experts elsewhere believe more research needs to be done before they can agree.
Over 10,000 Japanese workers were studied to determine if how they use a computer could be linked to the likelihood that each would develop glaucoma. Workers were asked to complete questionnaires regarding computer use at home and work, and their history of eye disease. Each was then grouped according to computer use: light, medium or heavy users, as well as by the length of time, in years, that each had been working with computers.
Overall, 5.1 percent of the workers were found to have visual field abnormalities; heavy computer users had a greater tendency to be either far-sighted or near-sighted, and approximately one-third of the workers with visual field abnormalities were suspected to have glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can gradually cause a person to lose sight, often without symptoms, over time. In the United States, over three million people are believed to have glaucoma, says the Glaucoma Research Foundation, accounting for up to 12 percent of all cases of blindness in the United States. The Foundation also states that the causes of glaucoma are not well understood, nor is there currently a cure.
Researchers in the Japanese study believe that near-sightedness, when combined with heavy computer use, appears to be interlinked with glaucoma. That doesn’t come as a complete surprise to Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, DO, a California-based optometrist, who also notes that there is traditionally a link between near-point viewing, such as that done with a computer, and near-sightedness. “The theory,” Anshel told The Ergonomics ReportTM, “is that the lens behind the eye increases its curvature [in near-point viewing], which causes an increase in pressure behind the eye,” which he says can contribute to a “long eyeball.” Another theory, Anshel says, is that in close focusing, there is an increase in pressure in the eye.
How would all of this link computer work to glaucoma? “If they’re borderline [on a glaucoma diagnosis], and if they’re already nearsighted, it may be enough to push them over the edge,” he says.
Other eye professionals may not be so optimistic about the research. In an interview with BBCNews, Nick Astbury, president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, pointed out that Japanese populations have a high prevalence of near-sightedness already, which may in itself be a link to glaucoma. “I doubt whether staring at computers makes any difference,” he told the BBC.
But the Japanese researchers don’t pinpoint the study’s demographics as a reason for their results. Instead, they firmly believe the link is more likely to be coming from computer use-related eye strain
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2004-11-17.