Symptoms associated with computer use is becoming common place these days due to the widespread use of interactive electronic devices both at home and at work. Headaches associated with computer use is one such common symptom. It is not always due to the computer itself as it is due to poor practices on part of the user, such as stooping, not blinking frequently and not resting the eye frequently. Sometimes the simplest fo measures can help prevent computer-related headaches and treat it without the need for drugs.
Causes of Computer-Related Headaches
Some of the possible mechanisms of headaches triggered by computer use has been discussed below. It is important to note that computer use may sometimes be an exacerbating factor but not the cause or trigger of headaches.
Prolonged use and strain of any muscle will lead to spasm. This can cause diffuse pain along the length of the muscle and even referred pain to a site nearby. Most cases of headaches in general is due to muscle spasm of the neck, upper back and head. The same occurs with many cases of computer-related headaches. The head is held in one position for long periods of time as a person stares at a computer screen and this strains the relevant muscles.
It is further compounded by keeping the hands in a position to control the computer as well as a person’s usual posture if poor. Ergonomics also plays a role if a person uses a chair that is not suitably designed to minimize strain on the body during long hours of work. It is also known that psychological stress in the workplace can also contribute to head, neck and upper back muscle spasm due to clenching, shrugging and stooping which are some of the unconscious physical responses to stressful situations.
Eyestrain is another common cause of headaches. It is largely associated with muscle strain of the tiny muscles within the eyes (intra-ocular muscles) as well as the muscles outside of the eyeball that moves it (extra-ocular muscles). Eyestrain is not due to poor eyesight and the need for corrective eye wear like spectacles as is sometimes thought. It can affect any person and is mainly due to fixing the gaze on an object at a fixed distance for a long period of time, as is the case with computer use.
The problem is also made worse by glare from a computer screen. People who have refractive errors of the eye (like shortsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism) and do not use any corrective eye wear like spectacles or contact lenses are more likely to suffer with eyestrain even with short duration usage of a computer. It can also occur with watching TV, playing video games and using mobile devices like cellular phones or tablet computers for long periods of time.
Most of us are not able to detect it but computer screens actually flicker at a very high rate although the eye sees it as one continuous image. This flickering, also known as the refresh rate, was more of a problem in older computer screens but newer screens are not entirely free of problems. The bigger issue though is the images on the screen. Flashing and rapidly moving images can affect some people and this is mainly seen with fast moving video games.
This type of flickering is known to trigger what is referred to as computer vision syndrome as well as migraines in some people. Headaches, eye redness, visual disturbances, eye pain and muscle stiffness are some of the common symptoms of computer vision syndrome. Migraine sufferers may find symptoms like nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances and lightheadedness occur during an attack. Flickering may also cause eyestrain even within a short duration of time which can then lead to headaches.
Remedies for Computer Headaches
Many people opt for medication when a headache strikes. Anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers and muscle relaxants may all offer some degree of relief for a headache but it is important to try to prevent headaches and manage it conservatively where possible. Here are some simple lifestyle remedies that may possible help with relieving a computer-related headache.
- Take a break and step away from the computer. Walk around and participate in some other activity especially where the head and eyes do not have to be fixed in one position for a long period of time.
- Have a short nap if possible. Ensure that the head and neck is properly supported to prevent any further worsening of symptoms. Reducing light in the room by drawing the curtains or use a sleep mask to block out light.
- Try some neck stretching exercises. It should be done slowly and gently to ensure that the neck is not being strained beyond its range of motion.
- Have a glass or two of water and avoid the coffee or other caffeinated beverages. Sometimes mild dehydration can worsen muscle spasm which in turn contributes to headaches. Stimulants like caffeine can also be a problem for some people, especially migraine sufferers.
Prevention of Computer-Related Headaches
Avoiding a headache altogether should be the goal of every person who suffers with recurrent headaches. It is not always possible but where simple lifestyle measures can help, it should be instituted.
- Rest the eyes every 20 minutes. A simple technique is to focus at an object about 20 feet away for around 20 seconds. This is commonly referred to as the 20-20-20 rule and helps the eye muscles a change in tautness by focusing in the distance.
- Use a protective screen for glare over the computer screen. Simply reducing the brightness and contrast can also help to some degree. Try to avoid working on a bright computer screen in a dark room.
- Always use prescription spectacles when necessary. Even if images on the screen seem fairly clear, the eye may be strained by not using corrective eye wear.
- Eye dryness is a contributor to eye strain and can be easily relieved with blinking more often. However, this may not be sufficient and where necessary eye drops for lubrication (artificial tears) may be used.
- Use an ergonomically-designed chair for sitting in front of the computer and try to position the screen about 15 to 20º below eye level. Avoid stooping.