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HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment

Computer Vision Syndrome

Learn how to recognize and prevent eye problems associated with extended computer monitor use.

As you read this article right now, your eyes are working harder than they would if you were reading a book or even watching TV. Attention, desk warriors! If you stare at a computer for most of the day, you could leave work experiencing dry eyes, headaches, and blurred vision. 90% of people who work on a computer experience symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS. Symptoms include blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches, eye strain, irritation, redness, and any number of other ocular symptoms.

Computers have become a necessity in our world, so monitors are here to stay. Here are some of the causes of CVS and some tips to help you protect your eyes from the screen:

  • Blinking. One of the main symptoms of CVS is eye dryness. This occurs for two reasons: First, your eyes are focusing on the same depth of field for an extended period of time; second, unlike the non-stop action on a TV screen, there may be little movement happening on your computer screen. The lack of movement and constant field depth leads to less blinking and, therefore, eye dryness.
    Fix it
    by spending 30 seconds every hour or so adjusting your eyes to something far away. If you work in a small office, put up a picture and focus on something small in the background. This change in depth of field will exercise your eyes, and you’ll blink more!
  • Monitors. The pixels on a computer screen can cause some problems. Because they are not all the same brightness, they don’t produce the same contrast. And they can cause words or pictures on the screen to look fuzzy, straining your eyes and contributing to CVS.
    Fix it
    by investing in a good LCD monitor if you have not done so already. LCD monitors reduce glare and contrast, as compared with older types of monitors. If you already have an LCD monitor, then talk to an ophthalmologist about getting some reading glasses to help reduce eye strain. Adjusting the lighting in the room and/or on your computer screen can also help soften the symptoms of CVS.
  • Existing vision problems. You may already have a vision problem that went undiagnosed until you started staring at a computer. Extended computer use can exaggerate already existing eye conditions and lead to some of the symptoms of CVS.
    Fix it
    by talking to a physician about corrective lenses. The Vision Center of Excellence has excellent resources from the VA and DoD for vision support.

In summary: Protect your eyes from CVS by taking frequent breaks from the computer, by blinking more often, and by making sure you work in an ergonomically efficient office setup. If you want to more information about CVS, check out “A Survival Guide to Computer Workstations.”

Why did the Chikungunya cross the road?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Cases of a mosquito-borne virus, new to the western hemisphere, have been reported in the Caribbean and recently in the U.S. Read more about this virus, where it came from and how to avoid being exposed.

West Nile. Dengue. Malaria. Chikungunya. No, that’s not a typo. Chikungunya (pronounced “chik-en-gun-ye”), a mosquito-borne virus that primarily occurs in Africa, Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, and Warfighters deployed to these regions have been exposed to this risk for some time, now, however, it is reportedly spreading to Europe and the Americas. Most of the cases in the U.S. involve individuals who have recently traveled abroad, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just reported the first locally acquired case, in Florida.

The viral illness is characterized by fever and severe joint pain, but other symptoms include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, and rash. There is currently no antiviral drug for Chikungunya, and treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms. Most patients will recover fully on their own, although sometimes symptoms persist for several months.

It’s important to know your environment. If you’re being deployed to these regions or even going there on vacation, there are things you can do to protect yourself from mosquito bites and mosquito-borne infections. Wearing long pants, shirts with long sleeves, and insect repellent while outdoors reduces the chance of an insect bite. Other precautions include removing standing water from containers such as flowerpots and buckets and placing screens over open windows and doors.

If you think you could have been infected, you should see your doctor, especially if you have recently traveled to high-risk regions. Visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for more information about Chikungunya.

E-cigarettes spark new research

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposes sweeping new regulations on the multibillion-dollar e-cigarette industry and has asked for more research on the long-term health effects of these products.

E-cigarettes were introduced to help people stop smoking, but they are becoming a popular alternative to traditional cigarettes. But are they really a healthier substitute, as many companies claim? In short, we don’t yet have a full answer to this important question, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on a mission to find out.

On April 25th, FDA released a proposal for new regulations on e-cigarettes—a multibillion-dollar industry that so far has not been highly regulated. In fact, FDA currently lacks the authority to collect vital information about these products. Traditional cigarettes deliver thousands of chemicals, many of which are dangerous, to cigarette smokers and non-smokers around them. By comparison, e-cigarettes deliver substantially fewer chemicals. However, little is known about the potential dangers of the chemicals that e-cigs deliver.

Proposed new rules would allow FDA to collect information about the ingredients in e-cigarettes, as well as their health and behavioral effects. It also suggests that more research is needed to study the long-term health effects of these products.

E-cigarettes are now being marketed with flavors popular among young people. Preliminary studies have found that young people who say they would never use a tobacco product are experimenting with e-cigarettes. The proposed new rules also would require e-cigarette users to be at least 18 years of age to purchase these products.

Although it’s still unclear how the popularity of e-cigarettes will impact public health, but it’s certain that more research will shed some light on their long-term effects.

How does air pollution affect physical performance?

It is known that exposure to air pollutants during exercise may affect your health and performance, but what can you do about it?

Inhalation of major air pollutants has been found to decrease lung function and exacerbate symptoms of exercise-induced bronchospasms, including coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.  In order to meet oxygen demands during light- to moderate-intensity exercise, you take in more air with each breath. And when you breathe through your mouth, you bypass the nose’s natural filtration of large particles and soluble vapors. As your exercise intensity increases, you breathe faster and deeper, which also increases the amount of pollution inhaled and the depth it travels into your respiratory system.

If you live in or near a busy city, you are exposed to even more combustion-related pollutants—such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM), and ozone—that can inflame your airways and worsen asthmatic responses. Exposure to freshly generated emissions is most common near areas of high vehicular traffic.

While indoor exercise is often a good alternative to limit exposure to outdoor pollutants, some indoor conditions may be just as toxic. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)—the more toxic NOx—is usually higher in gas-heated homes and indoor areas with poor ventilation. Carbon monoxide poisoning is also more likely to occur indoors. When carbon monoxide is in your system, the blood carries substantially less oxygen, reducing performance and eventually leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. Be sure to choose well-ventilated areas for indoor exercise.

Particulate matter and ozone are two significant pollutants you may be exposed to outdoors. Inhalation of high levels of particulates has been shown to reduce exercise performance as much as 24.4% during short-term, high-intensity cycling. Women may be more vulnerable than men to certain particulates, associated with greater decrements in performance. Ultrafine particle concentrations are highest in freshly generated automobile exhaust, and these small particles can be carried deep into the lungs. However, the further away you are from fresh exhaust, the less concentrated the particulates.

Bad ozone occurs lower in the atmosphere; it is not directly emitted into the air but is created from chemical reactions between NOx, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), heat, and sunlight. Ozone levels also are higher in summer than in winter; and especially in larger, hotter cities, concentrations tend to peak around midday when solar radiation is highest. Exposure to ozone during exercise has been found to increase resting blood pressure, reduce lung function, and decrease exercise capacity.

The risks associated with not exercising at all are far greater than the risks of exercising outdoors; it just takes a little more planning on days and in conditions when pollution is bad.  When planning outdoor exercise activities, follow these tips to limit your exposure to pollutants:

  • Avoid exercising in areas of heavy traffic, such as along highways and during rush hour.
  • During summer, exercise earlier in the morning, when ozone levels and temperatures are not as high.
  • Check the domestic or international air-quality ratings to determine if it’s safe to exercise outside. Limit your time outside on Code Red and Code Orange days. Environmental conditions on these days are not healthy, especially for children, the elderly, and people with existing respiratory conditions.
  • Exercise indoors when the air quality indicates high ozone and particulate levels.
  • Before any demanding physical activity, limit your carbon monoxide exposure by avoiding smoky areas and long car rides in congested traffic.

Practice safe sun

Skin cancer rates have reached epidemic proportions. Stay safe this summer whether you are walking the dog, mountain climbing, or training for the next PRT.

More than two million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, and the number is growing. Skin cancer is a major public health issue, and with proper precautions you can decrease your risk considerably. Hopefully this information on sun safety will help you, whether you are a Warfighter or dependent, stay safe during all outdoor activities!

Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) has been identified as the most important risk factor for both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Exposure to UVR weakens the skin’s elasticity and can result in sagging cheeks, deeper facial wrinkles, skin discoloration, burn, skin aging, photosensitivity, and cancer. Taking steps to safeguard yourself is crucial, especially when participating in outdoor activities or exercising.

Sweating increases the skin’s sensitivity to the sun’s rays, magnifying the risk of sunburn and skin damage. Athletes who practice outdoor sports have been found to be at increased risk for skin cancer. Remember—the weather does not have to be sunny and hot for you to get sun damage. Ultraviolet rays penetrate clouds, exposing you to 80% of the UVR. Even skiers and mountain climbers are at risk for sun exposure and skin cancer because of the stronger UVR at altitude.

Follow these precautions from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) whether training for the PRT, patrolling, road marching, or participating in a summer league softball game:

Avoid burning. Avoid sun tanning. Also, try to avoid sun exposure during midday (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) when the rays are the strongest.

Seek shade. When possible, especially during midday, seek shade under a tree or tent.

Cover up. Wear protective clothing, including hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants when going outdoors. Keep in mind protection decreases when clothes are wet.

Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand. Ultraviolet rays can reflect off of these surfaces, which can increase your chance of sun exposure and skin damage.

Apply sunscreen. Use water-resistant sunscreen and apply 15-30 minutes prior to sun exposure to allow for it to absorb. Also, reapply after swimming, sweating, or toweling off. Be sure to take a look at the new FDA regulations regarding sunscreens and their effectiveness.

Wear sunglasses. Protect your eyes when working, driving, participating in sports, taking a walk, or running an errand. Solar ultraviolet B radiation can cause an increased risk of cataracts and cancer of the skin around the eye without proper cover.

It’s always important to remember hydration when engaging in outdoor activities as well! HPRC has useful tips on hydration and the consumption of sports drinks and caffeine during exercise in the heat.

Remembering on Memorial Day

Filed under: Memorial Day
Memorial Day is not only a time to remember those who have served but to remember how to serve those who do.

Today is Memorial Day. Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” after the Civil War. In 1882, Decoration Day became widely known as Memorial Day, and after WWII it became a day to remember all our fallen heroes, not just those from the Civil War. In 1967, Congress passed the law making it an official holiday to be celebrated on May 30, subsequently changed to the last Monday of May. We at HPRC extend our greatest appreciation to those who have perished for our nation and offer our sincere sympathy for the families left behind. There are many ways people choose to remember those who gave their lives as a supreme sacrifice to our country and its ideals. HPRC is dedicated to providing our Warfighters and their families the information they need to build resilience to prevent injury and illness and carry out their missions as safely and effectively as possible. Our desire is to reduce the level of sacrifice our warriors have to make as they fulfill their future missions for us and for our nation.

Colds versus allergies

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Can you tell the difference between a contagious cold and the irritating allergies that affect some people in the spring?

Have you been experiencing symptoms such as sneezing; a runny nose; watery and/or itchy eyes, and fatigue? Colds and allergies both can make you feel miserable and affect your performance, but it can be hard sometimes to tell which is which. The causes of each are distinctly different: Colds are contagious, and they are caused by viruses. But allergies are due to sensitivity to allergens such as seasonal pollen, and they’re not contagious. To prevent colds, hand washing is key, along with hygiene etiquette such as covering your mouth or nose when you cough or sneeze. To avert allergies, on the other hand, try to avoid the allergens that cause your symptoms. Common allergens, especially in the spring, include grass and tree pollen. Year-round allergens include mold, animal dander, and dust mites. It can be a challenge to exercise and enjoy the outdoors if you have allergies, but it’s not impossible. Here are some tips to help you manage your allergies:

  • Know and avoid your allergy triggers. If you’re not sure what you might be allergic to, getting tests done by a specialist could help you narrow it down. A doctor might also suggest an antihistamine or inhaler to help prevent flare-ups.
  • Check the air quality in your area every day. If the pollen count is high, avoid spending too much time outside, mowing the grass, or exercising outdoors.
  • Shower after being outside. This can help reduce symptoms by washing pollen off your, skin, hair, and eyelashes.
  • If you must be outside during high pollen/pollutant times, wear a cover (such as a mask or bandana) over your mouth and nose to keep particles out of your airways.
  • Rinse out your nose with a saline spray to help wash away allergens after being outside.

What is “Total Force Fitness”?

Do you know what “Total Force Fitness” is? It’s a Department of Defense model for building and maintaining health, wellness, and resilience.

Have you heard of Total Force Fitness, but you aren’t sure what it is? It’s a framework for building and maintaining health, readiness, and performance in the Department of Defense. It views health, wellness, and resilience as a holistic concept that recognizes “total fitness” as a “state in which the individual, family and organization can sustain optimal well-being and performance under all conditions”—a connection between mind, body, spirit, and family/social relationships. Total fitness shifts the perspective from treatment to wellness and focuses on prevention and strengths.

The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury created a slide presentation for units and groups on Total Force Fitness: A Brief Overview that describes what TFF is, its core components, and each of its eight “domains” (behavioral, social, physical, environmental, medical and dental, spiritual, nutritional, and psychological). For more in-depth reading, check out the original Military Medicine Supplement that started it all, including a scholarly chapter for each domain.

The bright and dark sides of blue light

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Rest, Sleep, Technology
The “blue light” emitted from electronic devices and energy-efficient light bulbs affects your energy level, for better and for worse.

If you’ve ever thought you noticed a boost in energy while using your electronic gadgets, it may not just be in your head. A recent study suggests that blue light—the type that’s emitted from all electronic devices and energy-efficient light bulbs—can give you an energy boost equal to or better than two cups of coffee. The same study makes a connection between blue light and enhanced sports performance. Sounds great, right? But what if sleep is the missing piece of your performance puzzle?

While you might welcome an energy boost during the day, using electronic gadgets at night can be detrimental to your sleep health, disrupting your natural circadian rhythm by suppressing the secretion of melatonin, a powerful sleep hormone. Follow these tips to manage your exposure to blue light:

  • Take advantage of electronic devices during the day to boost your attention, reaction times, and mood.
  • Shut off all electronic devices at night at least two hours before you go to bed.
  • Consider wearing blue-blocking glasses on those nights when you can’t avoid blue light.
  • Use dim, red lights if you like having a nightlight. Red light has less impact on your melatonin levels. (Parents also take note for the nightlight in your child’s bedroom.)

One more tip about light: During the day, get plenty of bright daylight. Not only will it make you feel better during the day, it will also help you sleep at night.

Too loud for you to hear?

There are some tips you can use to prevent exposure to hazardous noise levels recreationally and occupationally.

A staggering number of Americans (approximately 36 million) have hearing loss, and one-third of those probably could have been prevented. Hearing loss continues to be a safety hazard for Warfighters at home and in the field. So how do we combat this not-so-silent epidemic?  Here are a few tips to help you protect your hearing.

  • Wear a hearing protective device (HPD). HPDs should be worn for noise levels at or above 85dB. Not sure what 85dB really means? Check out this guide to occupational noise levels.  Also check out “How Loud is Too Loud?,” a graphic designed to inform Warfighters about how and when to choose the proper HPD for their jobs.
  • Learn how to wear your HPD correctly. Even if you have the correct protection, it may not be effective if you’re not wearing it correctly.
  • Always have disposable HPDs handy. Disposable HPDs are lightweight and easily portable. Make them a part of your everyday gear.

For more information about how to protect yourself against or to seek help for hearing loss check out the DoD Hearing Center of Excellence website or make an appointment with your local hearing loss treatment center.

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