Health Problems in IT Professionals -Causes and Prevention
Before we discuss health problems in IT professionals, let me tell you something strange. Though I’m a healthcare professional, I have an affinity for computers. I don’t remember when my passion took over my profession and now I’m more an IT bug than a doc! But indeed, it’s not an act of God! I’m responsible for this and I enjoy committing it.
Anyway, studying several years of medical science, it always helped me to cure the sufferers and what they say “knowledge never goes in vain” seems to be truth. Here, when I’m serving an IT company, I’d like to share something important that is much of your concern. It’s all about major health problems due to regular computer use (or overuse!).
Computer and Health Problems –Soft Industry with Hard Knocks
A study was done among 200 IT professionals in the NCR to evaluate the computer related health problems and role of ergonomic factors. The result revealed that there was approximately 93% of computer related morbidity in the subjects. The visual problems were noticed in 76 percent and musculo-skeletal in 77.5 percent. Furthermore, 35 percent faced stress.
About 81.3 percent subjects had inadequate lighting and 76.3 percent were not using antiglare glasses/lenses because of what they suffered from considerable visual problem. About 80.2 percent of the total 152 subjects did not have the monitor at correct distance reported with visual discomfort. The subjects with improper ergonomics were higher in number for complaining musculoskeletal disorders1.
Medically, we call it as Repetitive Stress Injury what are health issues because of your profession. The synonyms for this include regional musculoskeletal disorder, cumulative trauma disorder, occupational overuse syndrome (or simply overuse syndrome) and repetitive motion injuries or disorder. It’s not that just IT professionals have health issues but anyone who does the same thing will suffer from one or the other problem –simply like BlackBerry’s Thumb where the BlackBerry phone user uses the thumb several hundred times a day!
The proper use of gadgets and devices that keep your health intact is very important, especially when you deal with the same devices for hours together and for years. We call it ergonomics! The ergonomics is also a great concerned about HCI –the Human Computer Interaction (also called as Man Machine Interaction –MMI or Computer Human Interaction –CHI) that involves the planning and design of the computers for better human use.
Wikipedia has detailed about all above that you can go through. But here we shall focus on why health problems happen and what are the computer hazards that unknowingly happen to you.
What is wrong with computer use?
Nothing wrong! They are there to help us but then we forget about health, about ourselves. Let’s look at some important points to get into the topic…
The posture –how you sit in front of the computer
The distance –how far is computer from your eyes
The level –at what eye level the computer is fixed
Lack of motion & repetition –the body movement while using computers for the whole day
The breath –the air you breathe in
Internet –how close you are with this buddy
The Health Issues Due to Posture
Back Pain or Low Backache –the lower portion of back pains. The problem becomes severe that you cannot bend forward. This is typically noticed when you get up from your seat after sitting for long hours. Your body feels stiffened and you take a few minutes to get back into your flexible movement.
Remember: Keep Some Meta-stuff to Support Back!
Prevention: The posture does matter when it is sitting in front of the computer. Just check out the curve you make from the lower back. Lesser the curve you make, better the posture it is. Try to sit erected and don’t bend forward to type or to see the monitor closely. You can also put some support to fill the curve-gap to prevent such harm. Regular massage helps.
Health Disorders Because of the Distance
Eye strain, dark circles and redness –the eyes are most delicate part of our body. If you have less distance between eyes and the monitor, the rays coming from it will affect your eyes badly.
Computer Vision Syndrome or Dry Eye Syndrome –The eyes are red, itchy and constantly irritating. The simple reason is the screen, its radiation and resolution (I mean the brightness and contrast). If the problem is severe, you see very small particles where you move the eyes. It’s actually IN your eyes and not actually present. Use anti-glare lens/eyeglasses.
Remember: Be Close to Code but Keep Distance with Monitor!
Prevention: Ideally, the distance should be 18-24 inches to keep your eyes healthy. Take off the keyboard from the computer desk and arrange it somewhere nearer to you. You do this with mouse too. In case you have enough space on your desk, put the computer screen farthest possible. In CRV monitors, we had safety film/screen but with LED/LCD, it has gone. No matter how great claims you hear from a salesman, radiation from the screen DOES affect your eyes.
Have enough lighting in the room, don’t operate computer in dark or poor light condition. The light should fall on the screen and not on your eyes. In other words, the window (if any) should be behind you and not in front.
Keep blinking. Look at the objects or scenery that is at long distance every half an hour. Do palming (gently put your palms onto the eyes with a little pressure, concentrate in the center of the dark. Do this for 3-4 minutes). Keep eye lubricants with you and hydrate your eyes every 3-5 hourly. Bhramari Pranayama is very useful for this.
Computer Related Health Problems Because of the Monitor Level
Cervical Spondylitis (neck pain) –this happens due to improper level of the computer screen and your eyes. Constant looking low at the monitor will cause this problem as it’ll stiffen the muscles of the neck and make them rigid.
Remember: Customize Applications Only After Customizing Monitor Level!
Prevention: Adjust the level of the computer monitor and maintain the viewing angle. If this is not possible, adjust your chair –make it higher or shorter with the help of level provided. Move your neck up-down for a several times after every hour. Rotate your head 10 times from end-to-end after every three hours. Regular massage helps
Major Health Problems Due to Lack of Motion
Constipation & Piles –it’s hard stool in layperson’s language. The intestines push the food ahead with their special movements called peristalsis. If you sit for longer hours daily for years, the intestine becomes sluggish. It is also due to improper timing of the meals that is observed in the IT professionals. The intestines then give up their work or become too slow. This results in the indigestion and forming of hard stools and piles too. Needless to say, when the stool remains your intestines for longer duration, the filthy material causes a lot of infection.
Remember: ‘Run’ for Program but ‘Move’ for You!
Prevention: Take your meals on time. Take a walk-break rather coffee break! Practice short spans of Anulom-Vilom Pranayam. Include fiber in your diet (dark, green and leafy vegetables) and avoid too oily and junk food. After every hour, simply stand up, stretch your body, press your stomach gently and sit down.
Heart Problem – According to NPR, a 2010 study revealed that the men with more than 23 hr./week of sedentary lifestyle were 64% greater risks of dying from cardiac arrest as compared to those who with less than 11 hr./week. For IT guys, this is alarming. The increase in cholesterol in IT professionals could be due to improper food timing, junk food, lack of motion and exercises. Improper breathing, chronic constipation, and poor blood circulation can also cause this issue.
Prevention: Remain active. Regularly go for the jogging as cardio exercises are the best to prevent this problem. Practice Pranayam and do yogasanas as even modern health care practitioners too believe these as very effective holistic techniques to prevent heart disease. Prefer stairs over elevators and park your vehicle a bit far from the parking place so that you walk down to the office.
Obesity or overweight –this is typical problem that IT professionals face these days. The reason is simple again, lack of motion, activities and exercises. Constant sitting on the chair in front of the computer add extra pounds to your body.
Prevention: Avoid junk food. Stop munching every time and if you cannot, keep sprouts, salads (carrots and cucumbers are best for this) or something fiber rich edible. Regular exercise, Pranayam, yogasanas and jogging will be great for this. If you are figure conscious, prefer manual mesotherapy (over liposuction) that gives you instant inch loss from targeted body areas.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome –We have tunnel in our wrists! This tunnel consists of muscles, nerves, blood vessels etc. this is due to continuous use of keyboard and mouse. You move your fingers and hand in particular direction several hundred times a day. Stiffness and pain in the wrist, numbness in the fingers and tingling sensation in the hand are few of the symptoms.
Prevention: Rotate your wrist every hour; flex and relax the fingers several times. Put something spongy under your wrist. Keep thin mouse-pad so that the thickness of the pad does not hurt your wrist while moving the mouse. Adjust the level of your sitting. The wrist should be parallel to the desk so that you don’t form any angle while typing or moving the mouse.
Cervical Problems –read above.
eThrombosis –Deep vein thrombosis; in other words, the clots deep in the legs. This happens due to lack of motion in the legs. The legs bear heavy flow of the blood because of the gravitational force. This major health problem in IT professional is due to long sitting hours on the computer without any physical movement of the legs. The vein in later stage become stiffened, start paining and then gives unbearable sprain and rigidity in the legs.
A 32-year-old person lost his consciousness after a few weeks suffering a swollen calf. A massive clot caused as it moved from veins in his leg to the lungs, what we call a pulmonary embolism. The experts found no such risk factor for the clot, except long hours (more than 12 hr. a day) of sitting on the computer2.
Prevention: Move your legs. Regularly stand up, take a short walk and come back. Do not keep water bottle with you. When feel thirsty, walk down to the water fountain. Jogging, cardio exercises, sports, aerobics etc. are helpful. Regular massage also helps.
Multiple Health Issues Due to Lack of Proper Breathing
One of the commonest problems I have observed in IT companies is lack of ventilation. While the dwelling is initially planned with central air conditioning, the scope of putting windows for ventilation is always ignored. It then becomes a tough row to hoe when AC plants shuts abruptly and in the season of winter.
The level of carbon dioxide is raised when lot many people exhale in poorly ventilated hall. It is for this reason, the brain receives less oxygen and over the period of time, there could be mental health disorder including depression, anxiety, lack of concentration and any such issue what is mental health related. Poor breathing pattern also invites weakness of muscles, sleeplessness (insomnia), improper eye-to-hand coordination, decreased memory, strains and pains in the body, and poor blood circulation.
Remember: No GIGO Permitted! Breathe Fresh
Prevention: We generally breathe one fourth than our actual capacity. Try to breathe deeper all time (some may start having giddiness after a few days –stop this practice then). If possible, arrange the ventilation or go out at times to breathe fresh. Pranayam of any kind helps solving this issue.
Several Major Health Issues Because of Internet Addiction
Typically, Internet addiction is defined as uncontrolled and harmful use of Internet that comes in the forms of sexuality, gaming and excessive use of emails, chats or SMS. There are many studies revealed that abuse of alcohol and tobacco, depression and other major health problems happen due to Internet addiction. In boys and men depression could be more a result of the addiction than a cause3.
Internet addiction brings a lot of health hazards due to over computer and handheld (internet enabled) devices. While enjoying the exemption from social stigmas, the internet users find themselves more comfortable on the imaginary World Wide Web than this vale of tears.
Common problems include depression, dependency, anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), complex problem, stubbornness, lack of social responsibilities, disrespect toward the elders (especially in children) and mood swings. Typically the office-goers feel discomfort on weekends wherein they might not access the internet and start thinking all time about the emails to reply on Monday.
Remember: There is a CTRL Button Even on the Keyboard!
Prevention: Keep your kids’ computers in the public hall and periodically check the history of webpages they visit in your absence. Fix up something like Team Viewer or simply block certain addictive websites. But in my opinion, this requires more mental motivation and counseling. If you are a parent, try to spend time with your kids and make them realize that the company of good humans is always better than idiot boxes and funky gadgets. It’s always better to introduce such gadgets as a source of knowledge than entertainment. Let them learn the later part later in their life!
If you are an office-goer or someone who is WWW conscious, meditation is very useful. You can alternatively try some The Nature’s sound track or some classical music to make your mind stronger leaving the addiction. I have written and observed about Brainwave Entrainment that seems to work better in such cases.
A Word of Caution for Indian IT Professionals
The world is getting cyber-centric but with technological advancement the medical experts are learning the whole new genre of occupational health issues and here, it is computer related health problems. While most of the IT projects are outsourced, India is emerging as favorite offshore IT solution hub for the first world countries.
Indian IT professionals are slowly but steadily getting into modern occupational disorders. These problems if ignored can prove debilitating and can cause crippling injuries forcing one to change one’s profession4, 5
The problems may seem to be coming slowly, they required urgent attention to prevent unwanted consequences that otherwise could become pandemic.
Courtesy and References:
1. Occupational health problems and role of ergonomics in information technology professionals in national capital region in Indian J Occup Environ Med 2005;9:111-4 by Suparna K, Sharma AK, Khandekar J.
2. Dr. Richard Beasley, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in New Zealand
3. Internet Addiction in Duodecim 2012;128(7):741-8 by Turun yliopisto, Harjavallan Sairaala
4. Awkward posture and Development of RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) in Computer Professionals in Indian J Occup Environ Med 2002; 6:10-2 by Choudhary SB, Sapur S, Deb PS.
5. Hardships of Soft People- A Clinical Study of Ocular and Visual Discomfort in Video Display Terminal (VDT) Users in Indian J Occup Environ Med 1999; 3:14-6 by Rao KC, Chandu K, Vedachalam V.