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Health Corners
Computers And Health


We're able to communicate at lightning speed, thanks to computers, facsimiles and mobile phones.

Undeveloped lands are evolving into urban centers, draped with power lines, a source considered necessary for life in the 21st Century.

We can cook in minutes, thanks to microwaves, and view intricate parts of our internal systems, thanks to x-rays, MRIs and other technology.

Amazing, fast-paced, ever-evolving technology is symbolic of progress. But progress often comes with a price. The price might be negative effects on our health

Scientific investigation has addressed the effects of technology and the possible biological and behavioral effects upon humans.

The results can be grouped in three categories.

Group I

Some effects have been measured, analysed and successfully mitigated, such as:

  • Clear physical effects: ailments of the eyes, skin, muscles, and joints.
  • Radioactive emission from monitors (x-rays/ gamma rays, ultraviolet).

Group II

Some parameters remain suspect only and labeled innocuous pending further investigation, such as:

  • Electrical field radiation (E field) from monitors
  • Magnetic field radiation (H field) from monitors

Group III

Parameters which have been proven to be responsible for specific symptoms and for which solutions are now available, such as:

  • Glare and reflection from monitors
  • Static voltage build up from monitors
  • Ion depletion in air environment due to monitors
  • Static voltage build up from monitors
  • Chemical outgases from computer hardware materials
  • Ergonomics (anatomical human engineering)

Computers

Millions of people around the world, now use computers.

Computer-related health problems are caused by improper use and lack of knowledge about "safe computing techniques".

Some of the most common problems related to computer use:

Eye Strain and Management

  • Problem:
    Eyestrain is often linked to other vision problems.

    Solution:
    If you correct those problems you can often fix the eyestrain.

  • Problem:
    Other common sources of eyestrain include too much light coming from behind the monitor or too much glare on the computer screen caused by light hitting the screen from behind you.

    Solution:
    You can eliminate these problems by repositioning your desk so that all sources of light are off to the side. Use a mesh glare screen for your computer monitor. If your office environment is particularly brightly lit, wearing dark clothing may help eliminate glare caused by your own reflection.

  • Lighting Tips
    Avoid glare on your VDT by using window shades or curtains, positioning your terminal at right angles to windows, and installing an anti-glare screen.

    The recommended illumination level is between 200-500 lux.
    Specific task lighting should be provided when it's needed.

Eye ailments caused by computers

  • Conjunctivitis - itchy, bloodshot eyes - is one substantiated effect of electromagnetic radiation on VDT users. (Dermatitis - red, irritated skin) is also thought to have the same cause.
  • The cathode ray tube in the VDT showers you with negatively charged electrons. These impart a negative charge to your body, including your eyes.
  • Positively charged dust particles are then attracted to your body, where they may irritate your eyes or clog and irritate your pores.

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)

Cause
Signs and Symptoms
Management
Prevention

CTS affects workers in many fields. It is common among draftsmen, meat cutters, secretaries, musicians, assembly-line workers, automotive repair workers, and many others. Carpal tunnel syndrome is common among computer keyboard users

This is a painful, debilitating condition

What Causes CTS?

Eight bones in the wrist, called carpals form a tunnel like structure. The median nerve travels from the forearm into your hand through this tunnel. The tunnel also has tendons which help in the movement of fingers and wrist. These tendons are covered with a lubricating membrane called synovium. This can swell under strain and make the ligaments press on the median nerve leading to CTS.

Signs and Symptoms of CTS

  • Shooting pains in the wrist or forearm.
  • Pain can extend to neck, shoulder or chest.
  • Hand and fingers feel numb. A “ Swollen Feeling” is present.
  • Grasping small objects becomes difficult.
  • Hand sensitivity to heat and cold may diminish.
Management

Computer keyboard users can take several steps to lower their chances of developing CTS, RSI, etc

  • CTS can be treated with steroids, anti-inflammatories, or physical therapy, or with surgery to loosen the transverse carpal ligament.
  • Recovery of wrist and hand function is often, but not always, complete.
Prevention

Employing proven techniques can eliminate approximately 95 percent of all reported symptoms.

Ergonomics

  • Proper seating is crucial to good ergonomics.
  • The height of your seat and the position of your backrest should be adjustable.
  • The chair should be on wheels so you can move it easily.
  • Arm rests on the chair, though optional, are often helpful.

Table height

  • To adjust the chair properly, look first at the height of the table or desk surface on which your keyboard rests. On the average, a height of 27-29 inches above the floor is recommended.
  • If you can adjust your table, set your waist angle at 90 degree, then adjust your table so that your elbow makes a 90 degree angle when your hands are on the keyboard.

Wrist angle

  • If your keyboard is positioned properly your wrists should be able to rest comfortably on the table in front of it.
  • Some keyboards are so "thick" that they require you to bend your hands uncomfortably upward to reach the keys.
  • If so, it will help to place a raised wrist rest on the table in front of the keyboard.
  • A keyboard that requires you to bend your wrists is a common cause of CTS among computer users.
  • You should be able to adjust the keyboard, seating, and work surface so that when you're sitting in a normal, upright position, you can type with your forearms, wrists, and hands roughly parallel to the floor.
  • Your keyboard should be detachable from your terminal.

Elbow angle

  • With your hands resting comfortably at the keyboard and your upper arms vertical, measure the angle between your forearm and your upper arm (the elbow angle).
  • If it is less than 90 degree, raise the seat of your chair.
  • If the angle is greater than 90 degree, lower the seat.
  • Try to hold your elbows close to your sides to help minimize "ulnar displacement" - the sideways bending of the wrist (as when reaching for the "Z" key).

Waist angle

  • With your elbow angle at 90 degree, measure the angle between your upper legs and your spine (the waist angle).
  • This too should be about 90 degree. If it is less than 90 degree, your chair may be too low (and your knees too high).
  • Otherwise, you may need to alter the position of the backrest or adjust your own posture (nothing provides better support than sitting up straight).
  • (Note: If making your waist angle 90 degree changes your elbow angle, you may need to readjust the height of your chair or table.)

Feet

  • With your elbows and waist at 90 degree angles, your feet should rest comfortably flat on the floor.
  • If they don't, adjust your chair and table height and repeat the steps above
  • If your table isn't adjustable and your feet don't comfortably reach the floor, a raised footrest can help.
  • Otherwise, you may need a different table.

What can you do?

For the sake of our individual well-being it's important that each of us pay attention to all the effects our tools have on us, subtle, obvious, or somewhere in between.

A good way to begin is to have a checklist

  • Open discussions about your work environment with your supervisor and your colleagues or fellow students. As you order new furniture or equipment, keep ergonomic considerations in mind.
  • Helping others see the effects that VDT use has on them. If you notice your colleagues rubbing their wrists or massaging their shoulders or necks during or after a session with the computer, you may want to point it out to them. People often ignore these early signs of muscle and joint problems.

Work Routine

  • Working with your hands bent upward at the wrists or frequently bending your wrists sideways heightens the friction within the carpal tunnel.
  • Working under stress (deadline pressure, anger, or other anxiety) can make matters even worse.
  • Many studies recommend a 10-15 minute break each hour to give yourself the recovery time you need - just a break from your keyboard.
  • Noisy impact printers (i.e., not laser printers) should be muffled by covers or physically isolated, out of earshot.
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