It's back-to-school and back-to-work time. Many of us spend hours each day on our tablets, smart phones, and computers. But did you know it can affect your health? Learn how to watch out for these 5 common conditions that are affected by excess screen time and how to prevent them.
It’s September, which means back to school. As physically active as you may have been during the summer months, it’s safe to say that most of you who are back in the dorms and the classroom will be spending a lot of time on the computer.
Without aging myself, I remember the internet was a rather novel entity when I was in college. It was a treat to be able to use it when living in the dorms. Wifi and Bluetooth didn’t exist; only scarce computer labs that we had to fight for time on. Most of us still hit the good ole library to research our school projects. We also used typewriters to type reports, and only if it was required.
It’s now the 21st Century, and time has surely changed. We spend almost every waking moment attached at the hip to our smart phones, tablets, and computers. College campuses, restaurants, coffee shops, shopping centers, amusement parks, and libraries now all include wifi. Even my 80-something year old parents have tablets and Facebook accounts. A world without computers is a strange one to contemplate.
But with it also come a slew of new health disorders that have been on the rise. I see them almost daily. What are the most common medical conditions doctors see related to this increased screen time? And what can you do to negate it all to protect your health?
5 Common Health Conditions Affected by Screen Time
1. Eye health
Glaring at a computer all day long will certainly affect your staring eyes, right? And it does. Eye fatigue is more common now than ever. Besides discomfort, it can also cause the eye muscles to twitch as a result. It can also contribute to dry eyes, a condition that can cause irritation, inflammation, and even pain. Staring at a screen can also cause headaches in some, especially if you are sensitive to the screen light.
What can you do to combat this?
- Take eye breaks frequently – give your eyes a break throughout the day by taking your eyes off of the screen and look around at your surroundings
- Use artificial tears multiple times a day, especially if you suffer from dry eyes or your eyes twitch
- Keep a safe distance from the screen. Try to avoid getting too close, or too far. If you are squinting, you either need an eye exam or the screen is not set at a proper distance
- Wear your eye correction. Don’t skimp out on the glasses or lenses your eye doctor recommended. If your vision is blurry then please get an eye exam
- If you suffer from eye discomfort of any kind, please get your eyes checked. An optometrist is good for checking your vision and prescribing eye glasses or contact lenses. An ophthalmologist, on the other hand, is a physician who diagnoses and treats eye disease. The latter may require a discussion and/or referral from your primary care doctor
Note that eye pain, pustular discharge, or persistent symptoms of any kind despite above tips require an urgent visit to your doctor.
2. Back pain
By pain, I really mean the entire back - everything from the neck down to the lower back. Many cases of neck and back pain are related to improper posture, and prolonged sitting using incorrect ergonomics especially is a common culprit.
While sitting at your desk or work station, please keep the following rules in mind:
- Sit in a chair with back support. And use that back support. Avoid inching forward in your seat. In fact, place a couple of blocks or books underneath your feet; in that way, it will force you to sit back and use the back support entirely
- Your screen should be placed at eye level. If you are looking up or down, then you’re compromising your neck and upper back muscles. The pain is often triggered by a strained muscle around the spine itself. The spine has nerves that exit the spine through the muscle layers, and if those muscles are inflamed, so are the nerves. This is how some patients get numbness/tingling running down their arm from the neck
- Your elbows should be touching your sides
- There should be a straight line from the tips of your fingers to your elbow crease, and then a 90 degree angle from your elbow up to your shoulder
- Some people may benefit from a wrist rest for typing and prolonged computer use
- If your school or employer offers an ergonomic evaluation, then by all means, take advantage of it
3. Carpal tunnel syndrome
The wrist houses a tunnel of sorts, made up of thick fibrous tissue. And this tissue runs over a nerve called the “Median Nerve” that feeds the first 3 and a half fingers (starting with the thumb). Repetitive hand and wrist movements, such as with typing, can aggravate this tunnel and inflame the nerve as a result. This produces tingling and numbness in the first 3 and a half fingers, which is often worse at night. If left ignored, it can eventually cause muscle atrophy and weakness.
I’ve tackled this topic before, so if you believe you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, please check out my prior podcast on this topic in order to learn tips to prevent and treat this potentially progressive medical condition.
School and exam-stress surely don’t help if you tend to get insomnia. If you suffer from insomnia, please remove all screen devices from your bedroom. Nothing in bed but sleep - no TV, smart phones, tablets, laptops, etc. Even a flash of your smart phone in the middle of the night is enough to activate your brain and contribute to insomnia.
If you need to use your phone to view the time, please invest in a small alarm clock to place on your nightstand instead. Your sleeping brain will thank you for it.
Learn more quick and dirty tips in my two podcasts on this one.
5. Weight gain
All of a sudden, after being active all summer, you find yourself glued to your seat, in an attempt to dissect the “Lord of the Flies” novel, or grasp the basics of organic chemistry, calculus, and microbiology. Before the year is over, you realize that you’ve spent more time in your chair staring at the screen than moving those legs. Don’t fall into this trap. Carve out time for exercise each day.
Exercise also increases endorphins, which can aid in improving your attention span and overall mental well-being.
And there you have it, 5 of the most common screen time culprits that affect your health. In summary, here’s what you need to do to protect your body and health if you spend a lot of time in front of a computer:
- Don’t neglect your eyes
- Pay attention to your posture and work station ergonomics
- Avoid any screen exposure in bed
- Set aside time to exercise and move those muscles
Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.