Friday, 17 October 2008

Using a PC, you are at risk

While we all use the computer with absolute abandon, very few of us actually stop to consider the health hazards this all-powerful machine possesses.

They are the lifeline for every individual today. Ultra-sleek, very light, designer colours with fancy brand names, and some of the species being portable; most of us cannot begin to comprehend life without the personal computer (PC).

Though it is now an established norm that we need to spend at least 8-10 hours on the computer everyday to earn our daily bread, very few of us consider the health hazards which are omnipresent when it comes to using either a PC or a laptop.

While the common and banal danger of eyestrain exists, there is also the ever-increasing spate of orthopedic problems and all of a sudden, an entire stream of undocumented psychological problems that have started creeping into the lives of computer users.

Mind over matter

Mental problems are the latest in the range of health hazards we can attribute to the computer. From addictions to suicide bids, the simple lack of a PC can be the signal for pure desperation.

It seems our productivity, number of friends and indeed existence is directly proportional to the number of hours we spend glued to the workstation, staring at the screen and pecking away at the keyboard.

Dr Laura Vaz, clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, cites the example of a young girl who attempted suicide twice when her parents took away the modem of her computer. "The basic problem is that people do not really see the computer for what it is -- a tool. They see it as a crutch to solve all their difficulties and also as a means of escaping reality," opines Dr Vaz.

However, there is no real solution to the above problems. It is more a question of inculcating the correct habits early on. "When children just begin to use the computer, they should be taught to see it as nothing more than a tool, and should be taught the correct attitude towards using a computer," advises Dr Vaz.

For adults who are addicted to the computer, there is no other solution save for psychological therapy and treatment for their addiction. The treatment is similar to the treatment given to drug and alcohol addicts.

Watchout your back

While this piece of advice is generally doled out to those who are in the line of fire, it would not go amiss for anyone who's using a computer either. And while you're watching your back, you might consider watching your neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, thighs and even feet as well.

Other common orthopaedic problems seen in computer users are wrist pain, elbow pain, and shoulder pain. "These injuries are caused due to incorrect support to the joints," elaborates Dr Shreedhar Archik, joint replacement specialist, Lilavati and Shushrusha hospitals Archik.

"A good posture for computer use contains three 90-degree angles. The torso is perpendicular to the thighs, which are perpendicular to the legs, which are perpendicular to the feet," explains Dr Archik.

In order to avoid an RSI of the wrist (Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome), consider getting an attachable wrist board for your keyboard, and use a mouse pad that contains a wrist support. This will ensure proper padding for your wrists, which will provide it with the correct support.

Keep an eye out

Viewing data on a computer screen is different than viewing a typewritten or printed page. The letters on a computer screen are not as precise or sharply defined, the level of contrast is reduced and the presence of glare and reflections on the screen may make viewing more difficult.

This results in eye problems, the most common hazard of using a computer.

"All problems of the eyes associated with using the computer can be clubbed under the Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)," says Dr Cyres K Mehta, consultant ophthalmic surgeon and director, Masina Hospital. Symptoms of CVS include headaches, blurred vision, neck pain, fatigue, eye strain, dry, irritated eyes, and difficulty refocusing the eyes. CVS generally occurs because we don't give our eyes enough rest while staring at the screen, and also do not blink at regular intervals, to lubricate the eye.

According to Dr Mehta, there is a simple five point programme you should follow in order to make sure you don't suffer from CVS.

The monitor should be kept below the eye level, more than 14 inches away from the eye, with the brightness adjusted to a tolerable level. It is also better to use an LCD rather than a CRT monitor. You should blink frequently to lubricate your eyes.

You should also use artificial tears to supplement the lubricating effect of blinking. The monitor should be positioned in such a way that there is minimal fluorescent lighting (from tube lights) reflecting off the screen. This reflection of fluorescent light causes difficulty in focussing and therefore eyestrain.

Exercising helps!

Fitness expert and back pain specialist, Mehernaaz Damania recommends the following exercises to avoid being plagued by back and neck pain while using the computer. This set of exercises should be repeated at half-hourly intervals.

Turn your neck from side to side at moderate speed 4-5 times. Tilt your head to one side till your ear touches your shoulder, straighten, and repeat on the other side. Do this at moderate speed 4-5 times. Roll your shoulders first clockwise and then anticlockwise 4-5 times at moderate speed. To loosen your lower back, sit on a chair, bend forwards and let your body and neck hang loose.

If possible, sit on a Swiss ball and bounce gently every few minutes. Sit upright with your elbow at a 90 degree angle and your forearms touching each other in front of your face. Open your arms to expand the chest and stretch the chest and shoulders. Repeat 5-6 times.

Stand up and bend sideways from the waist left and right. Repeat 5-6 times. Damania also recommends getting up every 15-20 minutes and taking a short walk to loosen the body.