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Tips for reducing eye strain

DEAR DR. ROACH: Would you mind providing some guidelines for preventing eye strain? I’m a graduate student, so I spend a lot of time reading, both from computer screens and from books. I will always need to read to get things done, but I’d also like my eyes to last me my whole life. — B.I.

ANSWER: We tend to spend a lot of time reading or in front of computer screens, and eye strain is very common. I think of eye problems from excess screen time and reading in two categories: dry eyes and muscle strain.

Computer users in particular can get dry eyes, largely from decreased blinking. Unfortunately, “blink more” isn’t likely to be successful advice, so I recommend an eye lubricant, used periodically during computer work if you have any sense of eye fatigue or strain. If dry eyes are part of your problem, you will feel relief immediately, and you should use a drop in each eye every few hours.

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Muscle strain comes from staring at one point of focus — your computer screen — for long periods of time. Also, many people tend to hold their shoulders and neck in an uncomfortable position during computer work or play. The solution is to get away from the computer for a while. I recommend getting up and pacing periodically, since prolonged sitting isn’t good for you. Another option is the 20-20-20 rule (I haven’t been able to discover who made the rule, but I think it makes sense): Look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. This can help prevent fatigue to the ciliary muscles, the muscles of the eye. Some people, especially those who are nearing or past their 50th birthday, might benefit from very mild reading glasses when using the computer.

There is a science behind adjusting your workspace, lighting and monitor settings to reduce strain. There are apps to remind you to take breaks periodically and to change the color of your computer to make it easier on the eyes.

DEAR DR. ROACH: I’m 40 and was diagnosed with sarcoidosis recently. It was found in my left eye when my eye doctor noticed inflammation. I also was having vertigo and face pain. It wasn’t until I had a PET scan and they biopsied a lymph node that I got the diagnosis.

I am on steroids and recently started taking methotrexate. I’m having horrible side effects from these drugs (mostly mouth sores and losing my hair), and my original symptoms are coming back. I feel like my doctors don’t know how to treat this disease. I have been told that it is rare in my area. Where can I learn more about this disease and see if there are better and more current treatments? — J.O.

ANSWER: Sarcoidosis is a multisystem disease with an unknown cause. It most often affects younger people and women of African descent. The most commonly affected organs are the eyes and lungs, and lymph nodes are commonly enlarged. The severity can range from quite mild to life-threatening. The diagnosis is confirmed by biopsy.

Initial treatment usually consists of steroids, and methotrexate is often used. However, mouth sores and hair loss are both common complications.

To find an expert with special expertise in treating sarcoidosis, I would start with your closest teaching hospital. Even though you haven’t told me about any lung disease, pulmonologists tend to have expertise in treatment of sarcoid, even when it affects organs other than the lungs. Most large hospitals have websites where you can search for doctors with expertise in a certain disease.

TO READERS: Recurring vaginal infections are often troubling to women. The booklet on that topic explains them and their treatment. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Roach — No. 1203, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6. Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or request an order form of available health newsletters at 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. Health newsletters may be ordered from www.rbmamall.com.

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