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Experts: iPad, computer screens may cause computer vision syndrome

(CBS News) Ever since Apple announced the third generation model for their popular tablet, everyone's talking iPad. But, not everyone's going gaga over the new devices, especially eye doctors.

iPads, much like any computer or smartphone screen you stare at for awhile, might contribute to "computer vision syndrome," a set of eye problems caused by staring at a screen for long periods of time without taking a break.

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According to the American Optometric Association, symptoms of computer vision syndrome include eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision and dry eyes. Any many of us may already have the syndrome and not even realize it.

People who spend two or more continuous hours in front of a computer or digital media each day are most at risk for computer vision syndrome, according to Wake Forest Family Eyecare.

"Who isn't sitting in front of a computer these days?" Dr. Justin Bazan, an optometrist in New York who serves on Better Vision Institute, told HealthPop. Bazan says human eyes are made for hunting and gathering and seeing at long distances, not sitting in front of a screen for hours on end.

The syndrome is caused by two factors, he says. Computer, tablet and smartphone screens are typically held close, which causes eye strain. Also, these screens always show pixilated images, which cause our eyes to shift in and out of focus without us even realizing it. That's weakening the eye's focusing muscles, the doctor says, causing the eyes to work hard to maintain focus. As for iPad and smartphone fans, Bazan says if the screen is small, people tend to hold it even closer to their eyes.

Dr. Matthew Gardiner an ophthalmologist at Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston, told CBS Boston last month that people forget to blink when they stare so closely at these screens, which can lead to dry eyes and irritation. Bazan agrees, saying that a normal blink rate is a few times every few seconds, but when staring at a screen, the rate drops to a few blinks per few minutes.

Given that many people are glued to their computers for work, and many are glued to their handheld devices once they leave, how does one reduce their risk for computer vision syndrome?

Bazan recommends a "20-20-20" rule, in which for every 20 minutes of screen time, people should look away for 20 seconds at something that is 20 feet away. It'll give the eyes a chance to refresh, and may reduce symptoms of computer vision syndrome. For desktop computer users, keep the monitor at arm's length and the top at eye-level, the downward gaze is easier on the eyes, Bazan says.

Some doctors recommend fish oil tablets to naturally stimulate more tear production, CBS station WCCO in Minnesota reported.

There are also computer glasses people could wear to reduce eye strain, such as Gunnar Optiks which are designed to combat the syndrome by reducing eye strain and allowing more moisture to stay in, thus prevent blinking problems.

According to WebMD, an ophthalmologist can determine whether you may need a pair of regular classes or special computer glasses.

Bazan, who is not an iPad expert, thinks Apple's announcement of a new "retina display" might stave off some of the symptoms of computer vision syndrome, since users supposedly will be less able to distinguish pixels from one another.

The American Optometric Association has more on computer vision syndrome.

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