When video game enthusiasts become engrossed in the game, their eyes are glued to the screen. The Minnesota Optometric Association (MOA) says that gamers of all ages often suffer from Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). Without giving up the hugely popular pastime, players can avoid eyestrain and other symptoms of CVS.

Here's a typical scene: A trio of twenty-something young men are hunched around the new Super Mario Galaxy (and later, Grand Auto Theft IV): The players stare wide-eyed at the screen, rarely blinking. Once a Mario Kart Wii race is finished, the players' bodies seem to relax in unison, including their eyes, but only momentarily until another race begins. Then their entire attention is focused on the screen. They don't hear someone trying to interrupt. During the next several hours, the three players slouch and sink into the couch, rarely moving except to get a drink or snack. Several times they rub their eyes during these brief breaks.

When their session ended, two young men admitted their eyes were very dry. All three had sore backs. Eyestrain and other problems like these can also result from using hand-held game systems such as PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS, because the screen is located on the controller. Players often become so engrossed in the video game that they don't take breaks.

Dr. G. John Lach, president of the MOA and an optometrist with Carlson-Tillisch, Mankato, Minnesota, says that CVS can result from personal computer use for work as well as for video gaming. Constant eye movement and eye refocusing often strains the eye muscles. According to Dr. Lach, CVS may involve eye irritation, dry eyes, headaches, pain in the eyes or surrounding facial muscles, squinting, excessive blinking, increased sensitivity to light and difficulty focusing.

"Be sure there isn't glare on the screen," said Dr. Lach said. "Gamers need to sit directly in front of the screen instead of at an angle. The screen should be below eye level, not above it, yet most people have their screens at the wrong level. Taking a frequent break is really important. The best thing to do is get up, and focus on as far-away object as possible. Try to follow the ten-ten rule: for every ten minutes of gaming, take a break of ten seconds."

According the American Optometric Association (AOA) American Eye-Q™ Survey, 82 percent of Americans frequently work at a computer, and an Omnibus study found that 42 percent spend three or more hours in front of a computer or hand-held device. The AOA found that 41 percent of its respondents have suffered from eyestrain. Computer glasses are available, as are anti-glare screens, although they are not often used. Usually, taking a few steps will avoid CVS. At the minimum, adjust work or play station, avoid glare, blink, and take a break.

The Minnesota Optometric Association has over 500 member doctors of optometry around the state. The MOA is committed to furthering awareness of optometrists as primary eye care or family eye doctors and to bringing about change that positively impacts the MOA member doctors and their patients. For more information on the MOA, visit http://www.minnesotasoptometrists.com

Minnesota Optometric Association