Is that iPad Hazardous to Your Health?

Dizzy

Photo by dospaz

The iPad revolution has engulfed the communication disorders field. We love our iPads and other handheld devices. Just ‘flipping’ through the cornucopia of apps related to speech, language and hearing in the App Store, it is no wonder these devices and the apps they hold are becoming therapy toolbox essentials.

As our younger clients have become more engaged in activities that utilize technology, therapy programs that are supported by apps have become increasingly popular. Young people often use other, similar technology after school to play computer games, do homework or interact on social networking sites.

Whether it’s watching TV, doing homework or playing games on a computer, or using a mobile device to play games or send or receive text messages, there is a common denominator among activities many people regularly engage in: screens.  Some are large and some are the size of the palm of your hand. We spend hours viewing screens on computers, iPads and other tablets, TVs, iPhones and other handheld devices. And sometimes we view these screens in less than optimal conditions.

As an audiologist and ASHA National Office staff member, I often receive consumer questions regarding dizziness and balance problems. These complaints commonly arise from problems within the inner ear. I typically send consumer information on dizziness and balance and recommend a visit to the audiologist for hearing and balance assessment as a good first step in understanding the causes of these symptoms and to begin a plan for rehabilitation treatment for inner ear balance issues.

But I digress….back to screens. The Internet houses many discussion forums on dizziness, headaches and vision problems while viewing screens. Enough people are complaining that a term for the syndrome has been coined; the American Optometric Association refers to this group of symptoms as “Computer Vision Syndrome.” These symptoms are not related to inner ear problems or more serious neurological problems but rather to eyestrain and can include:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • confusion and fuzzy thinking

Apple does have some warnings within the iPad manual about complaints of headaches, dizziness, and eyestrain. These warnings are not highlighted, though–you have to do a thorough search to find them. There is also a discussion about these symptoms on the Apple support community.

There appears to be little scientific evidence about screen/vision safety but I have seen some recurring suggestions on the discussion forums and from ophthalmologists:

  • use task lighting and turn off the overhead fluorescent lights
  • take frequent breaks…look away from the screen and focus on something about 20 feet away for about 20 seconds
  • use special lens/glasses for computer use
  • adjust the lighting of the screen, some folks lower the backlit screens and get improvement
  • increase font size
  • adjust the ambient room lighting
  • position computer screens slightly lower than eye level (about 4 inches)
  • remember to blink. This will reduce dry eyes.

Have you or any of your clients noticed any of these symptoms when using iPads or other mobile devices?

Pamela Mason, M.Ed., CCC-A is the director of audiology professional practices at the ASHA national office. Before working at ASHA, she directed the Audiology Center at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington DC.