Some sociologists call us the ‘always on’ society. We love the benefits of instant information constantly available with multiple gadgets to access it. But ‘Blackberry thumb’ was only one signal that new gadgets provoke new strain injuries, and doctors are trying to figure out what else the ‘tech syndrome’ is doing to us.

Like, reducing our attention span.

Now, it’s some eye strain of a peculiar sort.

There isn’t a name for it and few eye doctors test for it. But many people are having trouble seeing in the middle distance that demands so much of our focus.

Some 80% of us use computers, staring intently on screens set well between typical distance and reading range, often for many hours each day. Add in laptops, pagers, e-readers, smartphones, personal-digital assistants and hand-held video games, each with its own optimum distance and tiny flickering screen, and the demands on human eyes today would baffle even Benjamin Franklin, inventor of the bifocal in the late 18th century.

See if you can relate to this…

More people are showing up at eye appointments complaining of headaches, fatigue, blurred vision and neck pain—all symptoms of computer-vision syndrome (CVS), which affects some 90% of the people who spent three hours or more at day at a computer, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Healthy.

But vision prescriptions mainly focus on myopia (nearsightedness) or presbyopia (the difficulty focusing on near objects that comes with age). Since there are no set standards for measuring mid-range vision, ophthalmologists and optometrists typically just cut any reading prescription they give patients in half for computer distance. With people sitting anywhere from 18 to 40 inches from their screens, that can be wildly off.

For many people who already wear glasses, their current prescriptions aren’t quite cutting it. People who wear bifocals, for example, often try to bring the computer screen into focus by tilting their head back, jutting out their chins and peering through the bottom of the lens.

True, and all true for me. But my eye doctor put me through an interesting test a few years ago where they connect a set of glasses to a computerized device that determines if you’re moving your head left to right as you read across the computer screen, or are able to skim the full screen by moving eyes only from left to right. I was a head turner. The results produced a new pair of glasses prescribed only for computer use, targeted also for the distance I sit from the screen. They sat in the drawer for the past couple of years, too strong to use, and I was both relieved and dismayed this week to discover that they’re now perfect. Alas, they enliven the computer screen with full and comfortable visibility.

“Every individual is different, and too often, in the hustle and bustle of seeing patients in practice, we don’t stop to ask, ‘What is your working distance? What are your hobbies?’ If you go fly-fishing, you need to focus up close for hooking your flies as well as seeing at computer distance,” says Glen Steele, a professor at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tenn.

Ah, fly-fishing…I want to go back (I don’t hook my own flies). Out there, no glasses needed to see what’s most important.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....