COMPUTER RELATED HEALTH HAZARDS


Computer – modern times gift to the world. It is indeed a wonderful organ if played properly otherwise literally a pain in the neck. As its use and affordability have increased so have the health hazards. It is estimated that world-wide 25% computer users are suffering from computer related injuries. Studies conducted in various international medical institutes that the figure may be as high as 80-90%. A study from Japan shows that visual strain occurred after60 minutes of Video Display Terminal (VDT) task. USA is spending $2 billion annually for having ignored computer related problems.

Computer related illnesses rank 1st among Occupational health problems. Now with increasing use of computers in educational, recreational and IT careers, the health problems are going to increase further. Kids are at risk too, with increasing hours in front of the computer at school and at home, using equipment that is not built to suit their size, make them more vulnerable.

Let us now see what these hazards are:-

REPETITVE STRAIN INJURIES (RSI)

Occur from repeated physical movements doing damage to tendons, nerves, muscles and other soft body tissues. Another name for this condition is Cumulative trauma Disorders. These happen more quickly as a result of defective typing technique and body positions that place unnecessary stress on the tendons and nerves in the hand, wrist, arms, shoulder and neck.

Conditions that occur as a result of RSI are:-

Ø Carpal Tunnel syndrome

Ø Cervical radiculopathy: is Disk compression in the neck, often caused by repetitive cradling of the phone on the shoulder.

Ø Epicondylitis: elbow soreness, commonly known as “Tennis elbow.”

Ø Gangilon: Swelling or a lump formed as a result of degeneration occurring in a portion of the joint capsule or a tendon sheath.

Ø Tendinitis: Inflammation and tearing of tendons.

Ø Tenosynovitis: Inflammation of the extensor tendon sheath of the thumb.

Ø Myofascial pain syndrome: also called “Back Strain,” as a result of improper seating.

Ø Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy: characterized by pain and tenderness of the hands. Hands become warm, swollen, have increased sweating, may develop loss of muscle control and demineralization of bones. Flexion contractures of fingers may develop. In some cases shoulders may be involved.

CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME (CTS)

The forearm flexor tendons and a few nerves pass through a small tunnel formed by the wrist bones, or carpals, into the hand. As you move your hands and fingers, the flexor tendons rub against the sides of the tunnel, sometimes causing them to swell and push the median nerve. When the median nerve is pushed by the tendons, we feel pain.

Symptoms of CTS

  • Pain that may run up the hand into the wrist and the arm
  • Numbness and coldness in the hands
  • Loss of strength and/or joint movements
  • Discomfort and stiffness in the hands
  • The need to massage your hands, wrists and arms
  • Swelling and coldness in the hands
  • Wasting and weakness of the thenar muscles with sensory loss

COMPUTER VISION SYNDROME /EYE STRAIN

No scientific evidence to indicate that visual damage takes place after prolonged computer usage. Eye strain is the single largest complaint of Video Display Terminal (VDT) users causing soreness, irritation, blurred vision, redness, dryness and tenderness of the eyes. Untreated or improperly corrected refractive errors or other eye conditions may aggravate the problem.

Symptoms of Eye Strain

  • Impaired vision, double vision and blurred vision
  • Difficulty looking at one point for a period of time
  • Itchy dry eyes and discomfort while looking at the VDT
  • Headaches
  • Eye fatigue
  • Altered colour perception

INTERNET ADDICTION

It is akin to compulsive shopping or gambling. 51% of internet addicts suffer severe job impairments. 58% get addicted within the first 12 months of internet usage.

Symptoms

  • Having a sense of well being while at the computer
  • Feeling empty / depressed or irritable when not at the computer
  • Inability to stop activity and craving for more
  • Neglect of family and friends, lie to employer, problems at school
  • Staying home and loosing social contacts

STRESS AND DEPRESSION

National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in the USA has studied that computer operators experience more stress than any other occupational group. High degree of co-relation between time spent on the computer and increased incidence of depression has been found. The reason sited is that these individuals lead an unfulfilled social life, which leads to further stress and depression.

ELECTROMAGNETIC RADITION

No clear cut evidence between electromagnetic radiation and health problems like miscarriages, cataracts, skin diseases, cancer and leukemia has been detected.

PRINTER RELATED HAZARD

A recent study carried out at the Queensland University of Technology found out that some laser printers may pose a risk to human health through the emission of toner-like particles into the air. These particles can be inhaled and can damage the lungs’ smallest air passages.

TREATMENT

Is varied and consists of Rest, Analgesics, hot or cold compresses to relive pain and swelling. Once the swelling and pain have reduced physiotherapy to exercise the muscles and preserve movements of joints is instituted.

In case the pain and stiffness persists in selected case surgery may have to be done.

Some individuals may have to switch their carriers. Therefore prevention is the best cure.

PREVENTION

  1. Correct furniture: Table and chair have to be of the correct height, so as to allow ease of function. Thus and adjustable chair is a must.
  2. Correct posture: Chair and keyboard are set so that the thighs and forearms are level and wrists are straight and level. Also note that you are sitting straight and do not have to stretch forward to reach the keys or read the screen (as shown in the figure). Any thing that creates awkward reaches or angles will create problems. Even a ‘perfect’ posture may result in problems if held rigidly for long periods.

    While typing your wrists should not rest on anything and should not be bent up,

    down, or to the side. Your arms should move your hand around. Wrists should

    not be bent to the side, but instead your fingers should be in a straight line with

    your forearm. All this is easier to do if you tilt the back edge of your keyboard

    down, i.e put a prop an inch or two high under the edge of the keyboard closest to

    you (Figures below show the correct method of hand moves and finger

    placement on the keyboard).

3. Increase your font size: Tiny fonts make you hunch forward to read then, putting pressure on nerves and blood vessels in the neck and shoulder.

4. Don’t bang on the keys: Use light tough and use two hands to perform double key operations like Ctrl-C or Alt-F.

5. Breaks: Take small breaks every few minutes
and long breaks every hour. During each break stretch your body.

6. Mouse: Hold the mouse lightly and do not grip it hard or squeeze it. It’s better to use keyboard equivalent commands.

7. Room Temperature: If the room temperature is too cold muscles can go into spasm and injury is likely. Therefore, do not over cool your room while using ACs.

8. Dehydration: do not drink too much coffee or tea, which have a diuretic effect, therefore water is the best choice. Offices with several computers tend to make the air feel very dry.

9. Eliminate unnecessary computer usage: no amounts of ergonomic changes, fancy keyboards or exercises are going to help you if you are working on the computer more than your body can take.

10. Consider voice recognition: Software that allows computer control or full voice dictation is becoming more powerful and less expensive.

11. Don’t tuck the telephone between your shoulder and ear: This common procedure aggravates strain on the neck, shoulder and arms.

12. Eyes: Take care of your eyes by:-

i) Correct positioning of the monitor.

ii) Ideally the desk should be placed between lights and not directly under them.

iii) Avoid glare from windows.

iv) Keep your screen clean.

v) Adjust contrast/brightness

vi) Ideal eye distance from screen is 18-20 inches

vii) Use large monitor with good resolution

viii) Take regular breaks

ix) People who use bifocal should lower the screen as much as possible

x) Contact lens wearers should blink frequently to prevent dryness of eyes.

xi) Wear protective eye glasses

13. Get Ergonomic

* Leg position: legs should be positioned comfortably, feet flat on the floor or on a foot rest, with the legs and hips perpendicular relative to the spine.

* Chair position: the chair should to comfortable, should have the ability to adjust the height, back angle and armrest.

* Back position: the small of the back should be supported with an adjustable lumber support.

* Wrist angle: wrists should be in neutral position for typing or using the mouse.

* Elbow angle: should be 90 degrees in relation to the upper arm and close to the side of the body.

* Monitor position: the top of the monitor screen should be aligned with the computer user’s forehead.

* Keyboard height: should be about 27 – 29 inches above the floor and adjust able so that it can be higher for taller people and lower for shorter people.

Foot position: feet should rest comfortably on the floor or foot rest.

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