7 Health Problems for the Modern Age

A woman wearing a glass, working on laptop.
­If you spend all day staring at a computer screen, you may be at risk for computer vision syndrome (CVS), also called occupational asthenopia. skynesher / Getty Images

Modern life, with its emphasis on information, automation, computerization, and globalization, has made work easier and given us more leisure options, but we now have a whole host of new health problems. Only time­ will tell if these modern health problems disappear like 8-track tapes and rotary phones. Until then, here are some of the new maladies we have in store for us.

Take a look at the next page for the first health issue of the modern age.



Computer Vision Syndrome

If this is your view every day, you may be in danger of computer vision syndrome.

­If you spend all day staring at a computer screen, you may be at risk for computer vision syndrome (CVS), also called occupational asthenopia. CVS encompasses all eye or vision-related problems suffered by people who spend a lot of time on computers. According to the American Optometric Association, symptoms of CVS include headaches; dry, red, or burning eyes; blurred or double vision; trouble focusing; difficulty distinguishing colors; sensitivity to light; and even pain in the neck or back. As many as 75 percent of computer users have symptoms of CVS due to glare, poor lighting, and improper workstation setup. To overcome CVS, keep your monitor about two feet away from you and six inches below eye level, and be sure it's directly in front of you to minimize eye movement. Adjust lighting to remove any glare or reflections. You can also adjust the brightness on your monitor to ease eyestrain. Even simple steps can help, like looking away from your monitor every 20 or 30 minutes and focusing on something farther away. And you can always use eyedrops to perk up your peepers!


Earbud-related Hearing Loss

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­Earbuds are the headphones used with many digital music players. They fit inside the ear but don't cancel out background noise, requiring users to turn up the volume, often to 110 to 120 decibels -- loud enough to cause hearing loss after only an hour and 15 minutes. And today, people spend much more time listening to their portable players, exposing themselves to damaging noise for longer periods of time. As a result, young people are developing the type of hearing loss normally seen in much older adults. Experts recommend turning down the volume and limiting the amount of time spent listening to music players to about an hour a day. Headphones that fit outside the ear canal also help, as can noise-canceling headphones that reduce background noise so listeners don't have to crank up the volume. On the next page, learn why sitting at your desk may be hazardous to your health.



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­This condition is related to deep vein thrombosis, where blood clots form in deep veins, such as those in the legs. These clots can be fatal if they migrate to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism. Clots can form when blood supply slows or stops, such as in a period of prolonged immobility. Similarly, e-thrombosis is the development of clots in the deep veins of someone who spends long amounts of time in front of a computer without moving. Although only a handful of e-thrombosis cases have been reported, millions of people who spend most of their time in front of a computer are at risk. Avoiding e-thrombosis is simple: stand up and move around every hour, tap your toes while you work, put equipment and supplies in different parts of your work area so you have to move to get them, don't cross your legs while sitting at your desk, don't spend your lunch break at your desk (go for a quick walk instead), and don't get too comfortable -- if your workspace is ultra-cozy, you won't want to get up.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder

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We all have worries, uncertainties, and fears, but generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is excessive or unrealistic unease or concern about life's problems. Although the disorder often manifests without any specific cause, large issues of modern life (such as terrorism, the economy, and crime) can bring it about, as can individual circumstances like dealing with an illness. GAD affects about 6.8 million people in the United States, and symptoms include restlessness, fatigue, irritability, impatience, difficulty concentrating, headaches, upset stomach, and shortness of breath. Anxiety disorders like GAD are treated with antianxiety drugs, antidepressants, psychotherapy, or a combination of these.


Orthorexia Nervosa

Photographer: Mathieu Viennet | Agency: Dreamstime.com

­It seems like every day there's a new report about something you shouldn't eat. The constant bombardment of information about food and health can confuse anyone, but for people who have the eating disorder orthorexia nervosa, it can be downright dangerous. People with this condition are obsessed with eating healthful food and have constructed strict diets that they follow religiously. Although many people who have orthorexia nervosa become underweight, thinness is not their goal -- nutritional purity is. Among the signs of orthorexia nervosa are: spending more than three hours a day thinking about healthful food; planning meals days in advance; feeling virtuous from following a strict healthful diet, but not enjoying eating; feeling socially isolated (such strict diets make it hard to eat anywhere but at home); and feeling highly critical of those who do not follow a similar diet. Although the psychiatric community does not officially recognize orthorexia nervosa as a disorder, those with the condition benefit from psychological treatment and sessions with eating-disorder specialists.On the next page learn how buildings can make you sick.


Sick Building Syndrome

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­Rising energy costs aren't just harmful to your wallet; if you work in an office building, they could be making you physically ill. Businesses have found that by packing buildings with insulation, then adding caulking and weather stripping, they can seal buildings tight, keep indoor temperatures constant, and cut energy costs in the process. Such measures require the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to work harder to recycle air. After all, when the building is sealed, you can't open a window to let fresh air circulate. The result is sick building syndrome, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies as a situation where building occupants experience discomforting health effects even though no specific cause can be found. Symptoms include headache; eye, nose, or throat irritation; dry cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness; nausea; fatigue; and sensitivity to odors. The EPA estimates that 30 percent of all U.S. office buildings could be "sick," so they recommend routine maintenance of HVAC systems, including cleaning or replacing filters; replacing water-stained ceiling tiles and carpeting; restricting smoking in and around buildings; and ventilating areas where paints, adhesives, or solvents are used.


Social Anxiety Disorder

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Despite all the ways to interact with others in our t­echnologically savvy world, those with social anxiety disorder feel boxed in by the shrinking globe. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people with social anxiety disorder have an "intense, persistent, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of doing things that will embarrass them," and that fear can be so intense that it interferes with work, school, and other ordinary activities and can make it hard to make and keep friends. But the condition has physical manifestations, too, including trembling, upset stomach, heart palpitations, confusion, and diarrhea. The cause hasn't been nailed down, but social anxiety disorder is probably due to a combination of environmental and hereditary factors. About 15+million people in the United States are affected by social anxiety disorder, which usually begins during childhood. Like other anxiety disorders, treatment often involves medication and psychotherapy.


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