While “killing” may be an overstatement, if you spend all day sitting in front of a computer at work or all night gaming online, your computer time could be causing you no end of grief…and I’m not talking about that racy picture you accidentally put up on Facebook. I’m talking about real physical pain and injury; from the tip of your head to the bottom of your feet, and everywhere in between.
While this list may contain some of the usual culprits—carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, and headaches—there are a few hazards that will make you sit up and take notice. In fact, you may never look at your laptop the same again…especially if you care about your reproductive health.
If you spend time on your computer prior to hitting the hay, you might be losing valuable sleep. The computer’s electronic glow can disturb body rhythms and suppress the release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. Some experts recommend an electronic curfew an hour prior to going to bed to help promote a good night’s sleep.
Some computers and monitors harbor toxic dust that can be harmful to neurological and reproductive tissues. The addition of bromated flame retardants—primarily polybrominated diphenyl (PBDE)—which prevent fires within computer and peripheral housings, began decades ago and are still in use in the manufacture of some computer hardware. There is no way to remove the toxic dust, and the levels have not been high enough to require manufacturers to remove them, as the benefits can outweigh the risks. When purchasing You might think sitting at a computer would preclude you from falling; it’s not so much the sitting as the getting up that can be dangerous. Computer and peripheral cords are a known hazard, contributing to a rise in hospital visits. A study, done in 2009, found 78,000 reports of computer-related injuries at U.S. hospitals between 1994 and 2006. The number of serious accidents rose 732 percent over that same period. While it’s nice to have the computer connected to the monitor, printer, scanner, router, etc., keeping the cords bundled, zip-tied, and out of the way goes a long way in preventing such falls.
Men who use laptops as they were intended, sitting in the lap, can be affected by the heat emitted from the computer. A mere 15 minutes of laptop time can raise the temperature in the scrotum above what is considered safe, even though the user may not feel the additional heat, according to a study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility. Higher scrotum temperatures can affect sperm production. Lap pads, pillows, and various leg positions helped only minimally to reduce or delay the increased temperature, so to keep those swimmers safe, use a laptop on a table or desktop.
Constant and consistent use of computers can cause computer vision syndrome (CVS). Symptoms include: fatigue, headaches, eye strain, neck pain, double or blurred vision, and tired or burning eyes. Practice the “20-20-20 rule” to help keep eyes healthy: take a 20 second break every 20 minutes, and look away from the screen to focus on something 20 feet away. Also use proper lighting and take a 15-minute break at least every two hours to help alleviate eye strain. (Good time to move around and get some exercise!)
Obsessive, compulsive, addictive; all adjectives that can describe computer use, although the use is usually confined to internet resources on said computer. Whether it is gaming, shopping and auction sites, social media, or porn, the habit is difficult to break and can isolate individuals, causing them to lose friends, jobs, and spend money they do not have. While the internet has a plethora of escapes from the daily grind, the amount of time you spend daily on your “hobby” (secret or not) is a good indicator of the level of compulsion. If you are regularly playing Texas Hold Em or having cybersex at 3 a.m., it’s a good bet you have a problem. Recognizing it is the first step. Getting help or learning to cope with the issue comes next. For more information, go to HelpGuide.org.
It’s not uncommon for computer users to experience headaches, which range from low-grade throbs to full blown migraines. This can be caused by posture, eye strain, and a variety of other factors. Make sure that your monitor is at a height and distance that keeps your neck and shoulders from hunching over, or leaning into the screen. Adjust the font size to keep from squinting, and beware of glare or excess lighting that could be triggering headaches.
Inactivity is a hazard of desk jobs (and long-distance airplane travel). DVT is a common problem, as sitting for long periods slows the blood flow in the legs, causing blood clot formation. Clots can break off and enter the bloodstream, ending up in the lungs and causing a pulmonary embolism. All very serious stuff. To avoid this problem, get up from your desk regularly, walk around the office, the block, or up and down stairs to get the circulation going. Drink plenty of water. If you are prone to blood clots and have a desk job, check with your doctor to make sure that you are not on any medication which could exacerbate clot formation. (NOTE: Birth control pills are among the medications that contribute to blood clots.)
Long hours of keyboard and computer mouse usage can lead to wrist and hand injuries, such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and the aptly named Repetitive Stress Disorder (RSD). In CTS, the median nerve that runs from the wrist up along the thumb side of the hand can become inflamed from overuse of thumbs on a keyboard. Numbness and pain are common symptoms. That same overuse can extend to other fingers or parts of the hand as well, causing RSD. Laptop users are especially prone, due to the small keyboard/mouse combination. Using an ergonomic keyboard and taking regular breaks are the best way to avoid this problem. Should numbness and pain persist, see a doctor for further recommendations.
Although many companies have caught on to the benefits of ergonomic workstations, some still do not provide a proper working environment, and many home computers are set up in a manner that is unhealthy. Then there is the issue of laptops, which are often used—literally—on your lap, leaving you hunched over looking at the tiny screen. Poor ergonomics can adversely affect your posture, causing back pain, neck strain, headaches (see Slide #8). To avoid posture-related maladies, follow these tips: Place the top of your monitor at or just below eye level; sit so that your head and neck are in-line with your torso; keep elbows close to your body and supported (via armrests); keep wrists and hands in-line with forearms; position feet flat on the floor. For a complete computer workstation evaluation, OSHA has a simple evaluation questionnaire that will help you determine specific issues.