After the pre-requisite, peripheral vision test and the one where they fire puffs of air onto the surface of your eyes, my last appointment at Specsavers – an organisation I’ve always admired for its, in my opinion, high standards of customer care, accuracy and value for money – involved the usual questions I’ve never learned the answers to: “What’s the lowest line you can read?”, “Which are clearer, the circles on the red background or the green?”, and my personal favourite - “Are the letters clearer with this lens…..?.. or this one….?.. this lens….?.. or this one….?”. I’m always at a loss, but this time I had no idea what to say to any of these.
The main reason for my uncertainty was that, after days of working at my computer, with stretches of up to 12 hours to complete lengthy projects, the letters were beginning to appear delocalised; words were swimming around the screen instead of remaining in their rightful place within the document. My higher than usual work volume during April was also the reason why there was no blog for that month. The thing is, once I get started, I find it difficult to stop until I’ve completed the amount of work I'm determined to get done for that day, even taking drinks and snacks while typing. This, as well as probably being counterproductive from an ergonomics point of view, is bad news for the eyes.
As the optician moved on to updating my details on the database, there came the inevitable question: “How many hours a day do you spend at the computer?” This varies, but it can be an alarmingly large number.
Of course, this problem is not specific to translators, and anyone working all day at a computer might experience this phenomenon. But if you are using a CAT tool, with the source language displayed on the left and the target language on the right, you are likely to be working in a rather small font size. As my sympathetic optician pointed out, one of the biggest problems for eyes on a computer screen is that straining to concentrate on information often means reading for long periods without blinking, since to do so might mean losing your place in the text. This can result in lack of (or insufficient) irrigation for the eyes. For those of us who wear contact lenses all or some of the time, tired eyes may also exacerbate problems of redness, soreness or itching. According to my optician, lenses with high gas permeability can require more lubrication, so a failure to blink may mean insufficient hydration. The lens can trap a layer of fluid between itself and the eyeball, which sounds helpful, but isn’t actually solving the problem. As well as being necessary for clear vision, one of the functions of tears and the tear film is to wash away foreign matter, so there’s greater susceptibility to infection if the eye is too dry.
As a result of this appointment, I had a fresh new pair of lenses, swiftly delivered, with a new prescription that should have given me better vision and renewed comfort. But I found that distant car number plates were slightly out of focus, close reading was difficult and I was getting dizzy spells and unreal feelings. Only after few days’ rest did my sight return to normal.
Specsavers lists potential eye strain problems and suggest solutions to these on its website. This advice includes periodically looking away from the computer screen to focus on objects in the distance, in order to relax the muscles responsible for focussing, and taking frequent breaks from the work. There are obvious concentration advantages to doing this, aside from those concerning the eyes. In addition to this, here are a few other tips I received from the member of staff who tested me:
- Try to keep blinking as often as feels natural; don’t read entire paragraphs without closing your eyes, at the expense of comfort.
- Use moisturising eyedrops. These help to alleviate dryness and wash away foreign bodies.
- Keep items likely to come into contact with the eyes, such as spectacles, lenses, hands, tissues or eye makeup, as clean as possible.
- If you use eye makeup, make sure it’s ophthalmologist tested and discard after the recommended shelf life.
- Drink plenty of water. This helps to eliminate excess salt from the body and reduce eye strain.
- Have regular check-ups.
- My optician also mentioned the importance of a healthy diet in maintaining good eye health and avoiding certain age-related eye diseases, including macular degeneration and cataracts, a claim that is reinforced on the All About Vision website. Very colourful vegetables and fruits, we are told, are rich in antioxidants and vitamins, which can help to protect the eyes from sight-damaging conditions.