Today more than 60 million people in the EU work with computers. Many of them experience vision problems in connection with computer-screen work, including eye fatigue, eye pain, a gravely feeling in the eyes, stinging, bloodshot eyes, a feeling of dryness, temporary functional near-sightedness, often together with headaches and pains in the neck and/or shoulders. Mapping what causes these work-environment problems is a major issue for international organizations like ILO and WHO.

Focusing the lens of the eye requires coordination between various nerve and muscle groups in the eye, neck, and shoulder region. The connection between these causal factors has now been studied by a research team from Gävle University College, Uppsala University, the Karolinska Institute, and the University of Minnesota. The findings of the most recent part of the study, now being published in an international scientific journal, show that reducing the tone of the focusing muscle (by placing an optical lens over the eye and at the same time seeing to it that the lack of focus incurred is compensated for by relaxing the accommodation) affects (deactivates) the section of the cerebral cortex that regulates muscular movement in the head, neck, and shoulder region. The experiments were carried out using a PET camera (Positron Emission Tomography), where radioactive marker substances are used to monitor the activity in the brain of volunteers who were asked to focus the lens of their eyes on different types of stimuli under varying optical conditions.

Questions raised by the findings of the study are whether eye problems can cause stiffness, muscle aches, etc. in the neck/cervix and shoulder region. The reverse­-whether complaints in muscles and joints in the neck/cervix and shoulder region can affect the ability of the eye to focus­-should also be investigated further, according to research director Hans Richter:

“It is vital to seek further knowledge of how tensing and relaxing the neck, throat, and shoulders affects the eyes and how eye complaints can trigger and/or aggravate muscular aches in the shoulders and/or neck region. The findings may show, for instance, that patients who experience back and neck pain working with computers should have their eyes examined,” Hans Richter maintains.

The findings of the study are being published in the Net edition of EJN (European Journal of Neuroscience) on Friday, June 24, 2005.

The title of the article is “Neuroanatomical correlates of voluntary inhibition of accommodations/vergence under monocular open-loop viewing conditions” and is authored by Hans Richter et al.

Contact information: Hans Richter can be reached by e-mail: hrr@hig.se, phone: +46 26-64 81 98 or cell: +46 737-33 78 52.

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